Take your mind back to a just over a week ago; Sunday the 27th of April, to be precise. Liverpool are on a streak of eleven straight wins, whilst Chelsea’s home defeat to Sunderland eight days prior to this had effectively taken them out of contention for the Premier League title. Manchester City are reliant on a Liverpool slip-up in order to get back in the race.
Two games later, the bubble has been burst. And, despite what anyone in the media or any Liverpool fan says, they only have themselves to blame.
Undoubtedly, the atmosphere at Goodison on Saturday was a long way from the ‘bear pit’ that both Arsenal and Manchester United experienced, but would Liverpool fans have acted any differently if they had to opportunity to gift their rivals the title? History seems to suggest not, considering the ‘Cockney for a day’ banner at Anfield in 2010 when they had the chance to hand United the league against Chelsea.
In any case, the players certainly tried their hardest. With injuries to Kevin Mirallas and Bryan Oviedo amongst others, and Gareth Barry suspended, Everton still pushed the would-be champions close. However, this game would have been of little significance had Liverpool been able to beat Chelsea.
Mourinho didn’t ‘park two buses’ as Brendan Rodgers claimed in his post-match interview. It was more skilful than that; Rodgers was simply outfought by his rival. Parking two buses with the intention of taking a draw, is something that West Ham and West Brom are guilty of this season against Chelsea and Everton. Mourinho, on the other hand, is a genius. He sets his team up to frustrate the opposition and catch them on the counter attack, which Rodgers himself has done multiple times this season.
On the day, Liverpool didn’t cope with Chelsea’s tactics. In fact, for all the possession they had, with all the shots they had, they were toothless. Mark Schwarzer was only really tested once from a fairly weak shot from Joe Allen. They just weren’t good enough when it really mattered.
More significantly, the 3-3 draw with Crystal Palace truly left the ball in City’s court, as they now only need 4 points from two home games against Aston Villa and West Ham. Games that champions really should be winning.
Forget the need to reduce the goal difference deficit, points are far more important, especially at this stage of the season. Failing that, being 3-0 up with just eleven minutes to play, you do not lose. Plain and simple. The result highlights the defensive problems that Liverpool have had throughout the season, which is possibly the main reason that they have blown the title.
Sakho and Škrtel have played together 18 times this season, winning only 10 times. In those games, they’ve also conceded 29 goals, an average of over 1.5 a game. That is not the form of champions. In fact, their defensive frailties have reduced the impact of Sturridge and Suarez, with a combined 51 goals. They’ve been fortunate in the fact that the two have been able to outscore teams for a long period, which you can’t expect to do all the time. It simply caught up with them against Crystal Palace.
The goals that Palace scored can only be seen as calamitous from a defensive point-of-view. Glen Johnson was far too slow to meet Damien Delaney, and the deflection that helped the shot fly into the top corner was a consequence of his poor defending. The second saw Dwight Gayle unmarked in the box, and the third was a similar story, as Gayle inexplicably found space between Sakho and Škrtel.
It now seems that the dream is over for Liverpool fans, and as much as the blame has been shifted from the FA to Everton this weekend, there really is no other reason for their demise other than the fact that they haven’t been as good as Manchester City over the course of the season.
So the 24-year wait goes on. As always though; there’s always next year.