Titles are won on the back of a strong defense. If this statement holds true then Liverpool certainly do not deserve to be the champions having conceded 49 goals this term, with as many as seven sides having a better defensive record. Even Manchester United who won the league title last season and were known for their leaky defense let in 43 goals, fifth best in the league.
Yes, Manchester United outscored their opponents and finished top scorers in the league with 86 goals. Liverpool too are leading the goal scoring charts with 99 to their name but their nearest rivals have found the back of the net just three times less than them unlike last season where Chelsea came closest to United’s tally with the difference being a massive 11 goals. The point being it is equally vital to outscore your nearest rivals.
And it isn’t that Liverpool didn’t have their chances to score more. Luis Suarez missed from 12-yards out, Joe Allen should have scored another and Victor Moses’s attempt to kick in the air when he had the goal gaping in front of him was a massive miss at the death.
While Steven Gerrard’s slip against Chelsea was blown up to epic proportions, the defensive collapse witnessed on Monday night led Brendan Rodgers to concede that the title is beyond their reach though mathematically they are very much still involved.
The shock and horror on every Liverpool supporter was evident as after leading 3-0 with eleven minutes to go, expecting their side to give away three cheap goals to the opposition was something no one would have ever thought of.
As pointed out by Jamie Carragher, the defensive duo of Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho have kept just one clean-sheet in the 17 matches they have started.
For the first goal, Glen Johnson chose to watch Damien Delaney’s next move instead if closing him down which saw the shot take a deflection off him to find the back of the net.
Both Glen Johnson and Coutinho had a chance to stop Yannick Bolasie in the opposition half. However neither was able to do and Dwight Gayle applied the finishing touch with Jon Flanagan not doing enough to close him down.
That should have sparked a defensive substitution from Rodgers at a time when the momentum was with the home side. Instead they continued with their dream of outscoring the opponents and thereby reducing the goal difference to close in on Manchester City.
In came Victor Moses for Daniel Sturridge when Daniel Agger would have been a wiser option. Gayle’s second goal of the evening saw him win the duel with Skrtel and made the most of Johnson’s lack of awareness to slot the ball home.
Sakho looked all over the place in the final ten minutes and is not comfortable on the ball which was evident when he gifted it to Marouane Chamakh from inside the box around the hour mark.
Rodgers is an advocate of possession-based ‘pass-and-move’ brand of football. In most matches, Liverpool see most of the ball and so was the case against Palace too. However they do tend to leave massive gaps at the back.
“They’ve played very open all year. This is just the way Liverpool play,” Pulis remarked.
This was evident against Norwich when Liverpool just about managed to escape with a 3-2 victory. Their defenders are often guilty of sitting deep inside the box and instead of charging out to keep the danger.
The work done by Rodgers at Liverpool has been amazing. However while the beautiful brand of football is much appreciated and entertaining, a tinge of pragmatism wouldn’t hurt either. That doesn’t mean in any way that Liverpool need to park a couple of buses but probably add more steel at the back in order to ensure they win three points without conceding many.
Of course at 3-0 it looked like the game had been put to bed and hence Liverpool looked to score more, but their defenders decision making when put under pressure has been questionable on numerous occasions.
No one is suggesting that they need to alter their philosophy, certainly not. But being sensible and choosing to defend your lead after Palace scored once and acknowledging the opposition having the thrust is being smart.
“It is clear to me that my methods work. On any given day, sometimes it doesn't. I have said that if we don't win the title this season it will be because of a mistake or a bit of bad luck,” said Rodgers after the defeat to Chelsea and he couldn’t be more correct.
Mistakes at the back cost his side the chance to win their first league title in the Premier League era. Of course, many would suggest that they have already overachieved but the grief and desolation on the face of Rodgers, the tears rolling down Suarez’s cheeks who covered his face with the jersey, Gerrard’s resignation that he would ever win the league title tells a story of a club who came so close but paid the price for not being leaky at the back.
A big price to pay but a lesson in the long term for Liverpool and indeed, Rodgers too.