- The odds for a Liverpool win Sunday were ridiculously low in the circumstances, and the club itself got more than a little carried away. Fans lined the streets beforehand (a previously used ploy, admittedly) and the announcement of the teams felt more like a WWE wrestling bout than a game of football. It felt like a procession - the prelude to a coronation almost - and for those of us whose skin crawls at premature celebration this just had Ultimate Disappointment stamped all over it in big black letters - Steven Kelly
When Steven Gerrard slipped at the end of the first half during Sunday’s game against Chelsea, his unfortunate turn of foot might have turned a league title the way of Manchester City. Gerrard took his eye of the ball and let it run past him to Demba Ba. The error was recoverable but the slip put an end to any hope of salvaging the matter. Ba went on to score and now, unlike before Sunday, their destiny is no longer secured by a winning streak alone. Rivals now must falter for a 24 year absence to end and the coveted championship trophy to grace the Anfield board room.
I quipped to a friend that Gerrard had always wanted to play for Chelsea, but it is best to be philosophical rather than judgemental about this type of occurrence. No reason for the Liverpool captain to walk the world with the hump of that particular failure on his back. More importantly where were the defenders meant to cover Gerrard, a central midfielder? The structural weakness of defence in this Liverpool side has come to haunt it.
A post match tetchy Brendan Rodgers would be well advised to be philosophical and pull the horns in upon which he sought to impale Jose Mourinho’s tactics and game strategy. Despite the transformation he has brought to Anfield he is still apprentice to the Portuguese master. It sounds churlish rather than knowledgeable to accuse Mourinho of spoiling, time wasting and parking two buses across the back line. For those who love a beautiful game it was hardly pretty but the failure was Liverpool’s not Chelsea’s. And failure, no matter how gracious, quarrelling with success never really manages to get its own nose in front.
Essentially, Liverpool failed to overcome the Chelsea game plan and seemed ideationally deficient. Rodgers protested that his opponents ‘virtually played from the off with a back six with the wingers coming back ... It was 10 players behind from the first minute and we found it difficult to break down.’ His point is? If only Liverpool’s defence could perform half as well the title would already be secured.
As the sports writer Steven Kelly suggested Liverpool were not beyond applying a bit of off-field gamesmanship to upset the Chelsea rhythm. The "ploy" of having the team greeted as conquering heroes prior to a game had one serious disadvantage. The scriptwriters had something else in mind. Mourinho's men scripted Liverpool in as the vanquished rather than the victors.
Rodgers probably understands Mourinho better than most managers and should have known what approach the Portuguese would take to the game yet did little to counter it. ‘Most people knew how Chelsea would approach it yet there seemed little or no change in Liverpool’s own approach to meet the coming challenge.’ There we have it. Teams are as good as opposing sides allow them to be. Chelsea did their job.
Liverpool if they fail to win the title this year might rue the slipped opportunity for many a day. The chance might not come again anytime soon with both Manchester United and Chelsea certain to field improved sides next year. But the warning signs were there before the visit of the Stamford Bridge men. Lately the team has been riding its luck a bit, just about managing to scrape past Manchester City after a comfortable start in a recent game at Anfield.
Yet for all of that the title race is not over. Manchester City have slipped up against lesser sides than Everton this season who they are still to play. Liverpool losing to Chelsea in front of their home fans at such a crucial stage was a serious dent to expectation but the team has to pick up and win their remaining two games and hope that City experience a Gerrardian slip.
Whether they win the title or not it has been a great season for a team that had seriously lost its way under both Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish. A season’s luck might hinge on a slip but for Liverpool to have slipped into title challenging mode only two years on from playing their worst football in six decades is a remarkable achievement. Brendan Rodgers has worked wonders with the team. He should now consider buying two red London buses.