LONDON // The season of transition is becoming a season of submission.
That Liverpool would struggle to live up to the heights of last year was expected, that they would find it difficult to deal with the sale of Luis Suarez obvious, but surely no one expected it to be this bad.
Crystal Palace had lost four of their past five games but they outfought and outplayed Liverpool, thoroughly deserving a win that lifted them out of the relegation zone.
Yannick Bolasie was exceptional, rampaging down the flanks to set up Palace’s first two goals.
He has had a very good week: on Wednesday he scored twice as DR Congo beat Sierra Leone 3-1 to secure their place in the finals of the African Cup of Nations.
He was unfortunate that he did not score the first after Liverpool’s defence opened up and invited him to shoot.
His drive came back off the post and Dwight Gayle bundled the loose ball in to cancel out the early lead given to Liverpool by Rickie Lambert – his first goal for the club in just his second Premier League start.
As Liverpool huffed and puffed with little brio or imagination, Bolasie was a constant threat and, sure enough, he was the source of Palace’s second.
In a duel with Dejan Lovren, he managed with a combination of skill and strength to send in a low cross for an unmarked Joe Ledley to slam home.
Three minutes later, Mile Jedinak bent in a superb 25-yard free kick to reduce Liverpool to their fourth successive defeat.
This is Liverpool’s worst start to a league season in 22 years, their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League for a second successive season fading fast.
In fact, the only thing in their favour is that so many of their rivals are also struggling – since three points for a win was introduced in 1981, the 19 points Manchester United have is the lowest tally of any side to occupy fourth place after 12 games.
Mario Balotelli, who missed the game with a hamstring injury, has drawn much of the criticism this season, but the problems extend further than the Italian.
This is a team that has lost its way: it lacks leadership, drive, spirit, imagination in forward areas and discipline at the back.
“We were nowhere near the levels we’d expect,” said the Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers. “We need to find a solution very quickly. After a very, very good start, we failed to manage the game. We have to work harder.”
Perhaps the most worrying underlying issue is that none of the several summer signings have really settled.
Suarez’s sale released a budget for investment in the transfer market; if there are to be returns on that, they look a long way off, even if you take into account Rodgers’s point that many of those he brought in were inexperienced.
“We had to make the changes and enter a transition period again,” Rodgers said, but he at least acknowledged that is not the full story. “Whatever phase we’re in, we’ve got to be better than that,” he said.
Crystal Palace 7/10 – Absorbed pressure well and always dangerous on the break. Ridgers described their approach as "simple" but t was effective.
Liverpool 4/10 – After a perfect start, Liverpool were utterly lacking in spark or drove or flair and ended up being well-beaten.
Man of the match: Yannick Bolasie – The winger only arrived back at Palace from DR Congo on Friday but after a light training session on Saturday he was able to produce a devastating performance, counter-attacking on the flanks.
SPURS RECOVER IN TIME
Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen scored an excellent last-minute winner as Tottenham Hotspur snatched a 2-1 victory over 10-man Hull City in the Premier League on Sunday.
Former Spurs midfielder Jake Livermore gave Hull an early lead at the KC Stadium, but the hosts lost their way after Gaston Ramirez was sent off in the 50th minute for lashing out at Jan Vertonghen.
Harry Kane equalised just after the hour before Eriksen drove home the winning goal to give Spurs only a third win in 10 league games and lift Mauricio Pochettino’s side into the top half of the table.
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