Anything else would have been boring – and Liverpool simply haven’t done things the mundane way this season.
If this is to be the end of the road for Liverpool’s title dreams, the late capitulation at Crystal Palace was fitting. If they were going to be crowned Premier League champions with the worst goals against record, then why not fall on that very sword. A 1-0 home win for Palace could have been excused as a one-off. This 3-3 game could be seen from a mile off.
Brendan Rodgers’ playing philosophy is said to counter the porous Liverpool defence of this season. Attacking football, especially with Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge racking up at least 20 league goals apiece, can compensate for a backline that never looked up to the standard of past English champions. At least that’s the theory.
But it doesn’t hold water. You go through English and continental champions and you really struggle to find a defensive group who were unable to hold their nerve and help navigate their side through the emotional rollercoaster of a final lap.
Mamadou Sakho gave evidence as to why other big clubs around Europe were so hesitant about making a move for him. There had to be something in PSG’s stockpiling of centre-backs over the past couple of years. The Frenchman is a calamity waiting to happen. Whether it’s through action or inaction, as was the case at Crystal Palace, Sakho isn’t a reliable enough figure to help stem a tide of onrushing opposition forwards.
Jose Mourinho recently spoke about balance in a team, ironically, and that certainly applies to this Liverpool side. They’ve done exceptionally well to disguise their shortcomings. There is no one great individual in the back four, so in order to counter that, Liverpool pressed high, worked hard and attempted to outscore the opposition by playing an open game.
It doesn’t work. Short of saying Liverpool’s league win – had they won it and if they were to miraculously win it this weekend – would be a false position, it would have highlighted the regret of the other title challengers and raised serious questions about clubs equipped with the resources and ability of Chelsea and Manchester City to allow a rag-tag defensive group to outdo them over 38 games.
Neutrals have found the notion infuriating, that Liverpool and Steven Gerrard in particular deserved to win the Premier League title this season. OK, sentimentality talking. But let’s talk about the football. With one league game left, how deserving is a team who blows a three-goal lead against an outfit who really had no business, through their lack of resources, in having a say in this title race?
Crystal Palace looked destined for the drop prior to Tony Pulis’ appointment. Their turnaround has been incredible. But for a team like Liverpool, who have blown away teams much closer to them in the league table, to draw at Selhurst Park in such a fashion is unforgiveable.
Manchester United effectively gave up the title, which looked firmly in their grasp, by drawing 4-4 against Everton late in the season in 2011/12. While there are still specks of hope for Liverpool going into this weekend, the effect is the same. Forget losing or drawing, you can’t concede three or four so late on when goal difference can and has played such a part in the deciding of a title.
Rodgers has his base and we know what we’re going to get from him and his Liverpool side. But revamping that backline – because shoring up isn’t quite enough – is a must this summer. Daniel Agger isn’t fancied by the manager, and he’s being kept out of the team by Sakho and Martin Skrtel. The latter has three own goals to his name this season.
Glen Johnson isn’t good enough as a defender. Going forward, he can be effective, though still enormously frustrating. At the back, Liverpool need someone better.
They need a group who know how to see out a game. If legs are tired, play smarter. Post-match, Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher went over the mistakes that led to Palace’s equaliser. Something as simple as being switched on and pushing up rather than retreating could have seen Liverpool leave with all three points. This is a back four without leaders and without the smarts to handle sustained pressure. Attacking football or not, they’ve cost Liverpool the title.