Liverpool, England (AP) — Christian Benteke endured a miserable one-season stay at Anfield before being sold by Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp in August.
The Belgium striker had a much happier time on his return with new club Crystal Palace on Sunday.
Benteke scored twice as Palace came from behind to win 2-1 for a potentially defining result in their fight for survival in the Premier League.
“Christian is an outstandingly good striker,” Klopp said of a player who didn’t fit Liverpool’s high-energy style of play and was sold for 27 million pounds. “If you leave him alone like we did, I don’t think he needs all his skills.
“We left him alone. Makes no sense.”
Liverpool’s defending, especially from set pieces, has been their biggest weakness this season and the problem struck again against Palace.
The defence was left embarrassingly exposed for Palace’s 42nd-minute equalizer, as Yohan Cabaye ran onto a long ball over the top and crossed for Benteke to sidefoot high into the net.
Worse was to come for Liverpool. Jason Puncheon’s inswinging corner from the right was low and poor and should have been cleared by Roberto Firmino at the near post. Firmino only got a glancing touch to the ball, which popped up in the middle of the six-yard box for the stooping Benteke to head home.
“On corners, Liverpool are pretty weak,” Palace manager Sam Allardyce said. “They’ve conceded six off corners (this season). It’s now seven.”
Allardyce lapped up a victory that moved Palace seven points clear of the relegation zone and should ensure he has masterminded another late-season escape.
“With our limited possession, we exposed Liverpool’s weaknesses time and time again,” Allardyce said.
“If I could have had a bet,” he added, with a grin, about Benteke, “I would have betted on him to score.”
It is now five goals in his last five games for Benteke, who is proving the ideal striker for Palace in their late run to safety.
Palace have now won their last three games at Anfield — the first team to achieve that since Chelsea in 2005 — and have beaten Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool in their last five games. Palace even achieved victory at Anfield without star defender Mamadou Sakho, who is on loan from Liverpool and wasn’t allowed to play against his former club.
“The results we are getting,” Allardyce said, “nobody would have expected.”
For Liverpool, though, this defeat came as no surprise, with all six of their losses coming against teams from the bottom half of the standings.
Philippe Coutinho put Liverpool ahead in the 24th minute with a curling free kick from 25 yards, and the Brazil playmaker spurned a number of opportunities early in the second half before Benteke struck for the second time.
Liverpool stay in third place as they seek a top-four finish to qualify for the Champions League, but are only two points clear of Manchester City and three ahead of Manchester United. Both City and United have two games in hand over Liverpool, who have four matches left.
“A lot of people around think, ‘Oh my God, the Champions League slips through our fingers again. Only if we let it slip,” Klopp said. “We have to try everything. Our job is to squeeze everything out of this season. Obviously it won’t be easy for us.”
Liverpool’s remaining games are against Watford, Southampton, West Ham and Middlesbrough, so it’s a fairly benign run-in — on paper, at least.
Klopp’s players have a habit of making things hard for themselves, though. Their fate could well be decided on the final weekend.
Manchester United closed up on the top four places earlier on Sunday with a 2-0 away win at Burnley. Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney made the most of rare starts by scoring first-half goals to lift their team to within a point of the Champions League qualification positions.