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Crystal Palace’s Benteke comes back to haunt Liverpool

Crystal Palace’s striker Christian Benteke (L) celebrates scoring a goal against Liverpool with Joel Ward (2ndL), James Tomkins (2ndR) and Jason Puncheon on April 23, 2017 © AFP / Geoff CADDICK

LIVERPOOL, United Kingdom, Apr 23 – Liverpool old-boy Christian Benteke stunned his former club with both Crystal Palace goals in a 2-1 win at Anfield on Sunday denting the home side’s top-four Premier League ambitions.

Benteke handed a massive boost to Palace’s survival hopes with a goal in each half to cancel out Philippe Coutinho’s brilliant opener for the Reds and turn the game on its head.

Liverpool paid £32m for Benteke when they signed him from Aston Villa in 2015 but sold him to Palace for £27m a year later.

The 26-year-old Belgian made them pay for that decision with goals in the 42nd and 74th minutes that moved Palace seven points clear of the Premier League relegation zone.

But defeat left Jurgen Klopp’s side in third place just two points clear of fourth-placed Manchester City and three ahead of Manchester United in fifth.

Both Manchester clubs have two games in hand in the scrap for Champions League places, meaning Liverpool’s fate is no longer in their own hands.

Liverpool’s forwards turned on the tricks and Roberto Firmino’s clever spin away from two Palace defenders sparked an attack.

He attempted to spread play wide for Coutinho, but Georginio Wijnaldum inadvertently ended the move by getting in the way.

Palace had offered little attacking threat but on 21 minutes they almost stunned the hosts when Benteke bullied his way towards goal.

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The Belgian international striker shrugged off defenders and exchanged passes neatly with Wilfried Zaha before bending a right-footed shot just wide of Simon Mignolet’s goal.

When the opening goal came, it came in real style in the 24th minute.

Palace midfielder Luka Milivojevic was penalised for a foul on Coutinho, who dusted himself down before bending a brilliant right-footed free-kick past a helpless Wayne Hennessey and inside his right-hand post from 25 yards.

Palace hit back to equalise with a wonderful, counter-attacking goal three minutes from half-time.

Joel Ward’s clever ball over the top dropped perfectly into the stride of Yohan Cabaye, who delivered a delicious cut-back from the right for Benteke to produce a crisp, first-time finish at the far post.

Coutinho might have stamped his mark on the second half after just five minutes with a superb drag-back in the Palace area to engineer some space.

But he blasted his shot high and wide.

He then produced some more magic to weave away from both Martin Kelly and Ward but this time his effort was deflected behind.

Coutinho should have restored Liverpool’s lead on 57 minutes but his header from a Nathaniel Clyne cross was tame and straight at Hennessey.

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Just before the hour-mark a fabulous pass by Lucas freed Firmino but his first touch was just too heavy and Hennessey made a crucial interception.

Out of nowhere, Cabaye missed a chance to give Palace the lead with 19 minutes remaining.

The ball dropped to the Frenchman in a goalmouth scramble and he scooped a shot just over from eight yards.

But there was no mistake moments later when the visitors stunned Anfield.

A right-wing corner by Andros Townsend was not cleared by Liverpool and Benteke headed home from a couple of yards.

Liverpool pinned Palace back in the closing stages but could not force an equaliser as Palace held on to win at Anfield for a third successive season.

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