Brendan Rodgers needs to learn lessons of collapse at Crystal Palace
Comparatively speaking Liverpool have had a much better season than expected
Liverpool’s Manager Brendan Rodgers: “We thought we could play Roy of the Rovers football to make the goal difference up but tonight was about winning the game,” said Rodgers in the aftermath of Liverpool’s still scarcely believable 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace on Monday.
Brendan Rodgers may be feeling similarly bereft following Liverpool’s nine-minute yet epic collapse at Selhurst Park but drastic surgery is the last thing he requires. Why remove from Liverpool the traits that transformed them into title contenders in the first place?
“We thought we could play Roy of the Rovers football to make the goal difference up but tonight was about winning the game,” said Rodgers in the aftermath of Liverpool’s still scarcely believable 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace on Monday.
His players tried to hunt down Manchester City’s superior goal difference when leading Tony Pulis’s side 3-0 and contrived instead to concede three goals between the 79th and 88th minutes to leave their rivals needing four points from two games to win the league.
It is not over, Aston Villa and West Ham United will be insulted at the suggestion City have sealed their second title in three seasons, but the embarrassing tears at Selhurst Park confirmed that Liverpool think as much.
Let us not waste energy on the fence. Liverpool blew it spectacularly at Palace. They did not choke against Chelsea’s two buses in defeat the weekend before but ran out of patience, ideas and options from the bench.
Loss of nerve
The Palace draw was as clear a loss of nerve and defensive composure as the Premier League is likely to see. From being six points clear of City having played one game more at the start of play on April 27th to one point clear after the close on May 5th is a dramatic slump.
And, in keeping with this spirit of bluntness, Liverpool have enjoyed a magnificent season under Rodgers regardless. Seventh last year, top with six days of this campaign remaining – theirs has been a staggering improvement that has re-energised an entire club. Liverpool would have happily taken a post-mortem into their defensive frailties in exchange for this position last August.
At the start of the season only Steven Gerrard and the owner, John W Henry, expressed belief in qualifying for the Champions League following a four-year absence. A modest advance was the general consensus. The gap between Liverpool and the European elite appeared to grow each year and with every aborted transfer bid while January came and went with Yevhen Konoplyanka stuck at Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk and Liverpool unable to build from a position of strength.
The improvement continued nevertheless. Champions League qualification never looked in doubt once Arsenal were dismantled 5-1 on February 8th and Liverpool, to borrow from a banner that has recently taken up residency on the Kop, made supporters dream again in style.
No one was distancing Liverpool from the realms of fantasy when Luis Suarez struck four goals against Norwich City or when Everton, Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham were taken apart this season.
It would be a desperate shame for Rodgers to change course now and, thankfully, highly unlikely. His philosophy is ingrained and so too is his vision for bringing sustained success back to Anfield. Two matches that have brought despair cannot alter what has been taking shape at Liverpool for 18 months.
Regret may well prove a lingering emotion from the season but, as Rodgers said when discussing Liverpool’s lack of ingenuity against Chelsea last week: “We are not perfect. I have always said that. It will help us going forward. One of my strengths as a coach is to learn and the players here are great learners.”
Palace will provide a rich source of learning material for the Liverpool manager. Once he can bring himself to look at it.