Wow. The glee at getting 3-0 up, thinking about how much closer the goal difference between Manchester City could be, before all hell broke loose at Selhurst Park.
Clear Defensive Frailties
Thing is, these sorts of comebacks from opposition sides were on the cards. Most recently at Norwich City, a slender 3-2 lead was almost taken away when Ricky van Wolfswinkel (probably the league’s worst forward signing this season, slightly ahead of Roberto Soldado) evaded Mamadou Sakho and headed towards goal, only for Simon Mignolet to save low down. At Upton Park, West Ham’s Andy Carroll out-jumped Glen Johnson and rattled the crossbar with Mignolet beaten. Against Swansea City, Martin Skrtel pulled Wilfried Bony down in the penalty area which allowed the Ivorian international to equalise at 3-3. Then at relegated Cardiff, Frazier Campbell and Jordan Mutch exposed Jon Flanagan, and his covering midfielder Joe Allen, on the Reds’ left-hand side, as the Welsh side took the lead twice in 20 minutes.
Simply put, this is not the defending of potential champions. Flanagan has been amazing and committed every time he has played, putting in full blooded challenges and intercepting well on the cover, but it just seems he should not be the first-choice in a title race run-in. Johnson has been a fading force this season, and with Martin Kelly providing insufficient competition for him, the England right-back has turned complacent at times, and just cannot be seen as first-choice next season, at least without more competition from a new right-back. Skrtel has been arguably Liverpool’s best defender all season, scoring vital goals and stopping several opposing strikers, but it just seems his understanding with the other central defender is missing, whether it is Daniel Agger or Sakho.
Brendan Rodgers has to sort his defence out. Yes, he will probably go out and search for another striker to provide proper back-up to Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez, the kind of cover Iago Aspas has so desperately failed to provide this season; yes, he will try to tie up a deal for Yevhen Konoplyanka after failing to sign him, as well as losing Mohamed Salah to Chelsea, in the January transfer window. But he really needs to get in one, maybe two (if Jose Enrique shows no sign of recovering from his injury) full-backs, and probably one more central defender, letting Kolo Toure go and making known to Sakho he faces a real fight for his place in the squad.
What a miss Henderson has been for the Reds. Who would have thought, during the last campaign, that this would be the case? In hindsight, Henderson’s needless red card against City three games ago was probably what halted Liverpool’s title charge. He may not be the heart of the side nor the fulcrum of this free-scoring offensive line, but Henderson is the engine of Rodgers’ team.
Henderson’s first game out was the aforementioned slender victory against Norwich. The second game, more crucially, was against Chelsea, and his forward runs beyond the nine outfield Blues was what Liverpool really required. And then last night, his energy in those dying moments would have been vital to stop Palace’s resurgence, especially with his doubling up with Johnson on Yannick Bolaisie potentially stopping the Palace winger’s game-changing influence.
In his place was Lucas, who for the past few seasons, has been the holding midfielder of the team. Rodgers has tried to fit him into the diamond, on one of the two side midfielders, but the matter of fact is Lucas does not have the stamina or pace to get up and down the field like Henderson, and Joe Allen, can. Henderson will be back against Newcastle United on Sunday, in what could by then be just the closing game for the Reds. But what Rodgers needs to do in the summer is find another energetic central midfield player to provide support in his high-pressing system that Henderson has so brilliantly adopted this season.
From 20th to Mid-Table
What work has Tony Pulis done for this Palace side this season. He has brought them from bottom to 11th within half-a-season’s work. His influence will be much far-reaching than South London this season, it will have the bearing on the title race.
Most thought Sunderland would have had the say on the title race, having lost to Liverpool at Anfield, draw at the Etihad and triumph at Stamford Bridge. However it will certainly be Pulis’ Palace who has that final say. If so, he would have beaten the side that finished third in the league, recovered a 3-0 deficit to draw with the runners-up, and lost to the side that came out on top.
Things can still certainly change with under a week of the 2013/14 season to go. The disappointment of going so close should highlight the wonderful season Liverpool have had in Rodgers’ 2nd season at the club, and not detract from the fact that the Reds are back in the Champions League and have exceeded all expectations this season. One just hopes that Rodgers continues to learn, as he has done, from his mistakes (Chelsea and Palace), and gets the necessary backing to go again next season.