Liverpool were EPL title contenders until captain's costly slip-up in match against Chelsea last season. Since that moment, the Merseyside club's glory days seem further away than ever
For Liverpool Football Club, time has stood still since April 27. For Chelsea, victors at Anfield that afternoon, it has raced on and embraced a new age.
Steven Gerrard looks dejected during Liverpool's EPL clash against Chelsea last season. Pic/Getty Images
Steven Gerrard's slip on the stroke of half time, which allowed Demba Ba to race past and give Chelsea the lead, was the moment that changed a title race and possibly Brendan Rodgers' fate as Liverpool manager. Chelsea had shown absolutely no inclination to win that game, wasting time from the outset, but once Ba gave them the lead, they defended with the tenacity that one has come to expect from Jose Mourinho's sides.
Even a draw and a point that day would surely have given Liverpool the title. Had there not been goal difference to worry about, they would certainly not have let slip a 3-0 lead against Crystal Palace in their penultimate game. As it was, Manchester City prevailed by two points. And instead of celebrating a first title since 1990, Liverpool were left to accept that they were "first among the losers", as Bill Shankly, the man who made them a feared side in the 1960s, put it.
Liverpool have started the new season like a team still in a funk, a situation not helped by the loss of Luis Suarez to Barcelona. Without him, the side has become a lot more predictable. Suarez was the type of player who made things happen, who would lure defenders out of position and create chances for teammates when he wasn't scoring himself. Even if you spend in excess of $50 million, you won't find too many players like that.
Recognising that reality, Rodgers went out and added considerably to the depth of his squad. Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert came with Premier League experience, while Lazar Markovic and Alberto Moreno were two of the most coveted young players in Europe. With the season not even three months old, it's ludicrous to suggest that any of these buys is a dud, more so when you consider that Daniel Sturridge, such an able foil for Suarez last season, also hasn't played a game since August 31.
With two thirds of his preferred attacking force — Raheem Sterling has been almost ever-present — not there to call on, Rodgers has had to look at a variety of different tactical options. Sometimes, Sterling has played through the middle.
Sometimes, he has been out wide. Philippe Coutinho has drifted in and out of games, without quite imposing himself, and Gerrard's displays at the base of the midfield diamond have been equally patchy. Last Saturday, Chelsea's dominance of midfield in a 2-1 win was stark, with Nemanja Matic, the tall Serbian, making Gerrard look like a 34-year-old has-been.
Dejan Lovren, another signing from Southampton, has yet to show that he can became another Sami Hyypia-like rock in the heart of defence, while Moreno and Javi Manquillo, another promising Spanish talent, have both struggled with the defensive aspects of the full-back's role.
Rodgers was pilloried in the media for not starting the likes of Gerrard, Sterling and Jordan Henderson in the Champions League tie against Real Madrid last Tuesday night, but it's not as though a single Liverpool player has made himself indispensable this season. The much-tweaked side eventually lost 0-1 to the best team in the world, a vast improvement on the 0-3 drubbing suffered at home three weeks earlier.
Whatever else he does though, it will be games against the likes of Chelsea that Rodgers will be judged by. He has fond memories of the club, having been recruited by Mourinho as youth team coach, before being promoted to take charge of the reserves.
Chelsea signed proven quality in the summer, with Diego Costa and Felipe Luis coming from a title-winning Atletico Madrid side, and Cesc Fabregas convinced to leave the Barcelona mothership. That's the kind of quality Liverpool can't even dream of buying until they win a championship or two. Following that Gerrard slip, however, the glory days seem further away than ever.
Dileep Premachandran is Wisden India’s editor-in-chief
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