As much of a moment as Crystal Palace’s fight-back from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 with Liverpool was – and for anyone like me with an affiliation or fondness for the Reds, of course it was a horrifying moment – I don’t really think we can claim the title-chasers necessarily slipped up or froze, or anything like that.
When you think about the way they have played all season, the collapse from three up was nonetheless very similar to the way in which they have won many of their league fixtures this season, and also to the way they almost let a few of those wins out of the net.
The thrilling conclusions to games against the likes of Sunderland and Cardiff proved to be an omen to what could happen at a very crucial, heartbreaking time to Steven Gerrard and co – and true enough, with less than a week to go, there was no escaping it this time.
I commend Brendan Rodgers for staying true to the style which turned Liverpool from a non-European side happy to finish in the top four to a team who will still take at least a feint glimmer of Premier League title hope to the final day on Sunday.
But yes, it’s fair to say that their second half wobbles have been far too frequent for comfort, and that there is room for some final tweaks to this promising machine Rodgers has turned Liverpool into.
If the Reds are to finally end their lengthy league title drought some time soon – maybe not this season now, but possibly in the next few seasons – some careful yet important tweaks should turn a much-improved and attractive footballing unit into the very best in the land.
Firstly is the aforementioned first half v second half contrast. It’s not necessarily fatal to put 80 per cent of the side’s energy into blitzing the opposition and mounting a strong lead but Selhurst Park was exhibit A that this alone is not enough to win games.
For me, there is room for Rodgers to manage the games as well as he is managing the squad so far. For all the criticism of the way Jose Mourinho has parked the bus for 90 minutes at a time at Chelsea, where’s the harm in doing so for the final 25 minutes when you have already savaged your opponents and scored three?
Sometimes it comes down to simply reading your opponents better. It was far too easy to assume Palace had one eye on booking their summer holidays with safety assured and Europe out of reach. But even against Manchester City, Palace continued to hustle after going behind by two even if in that case their efforts were in vain.
Their first goal against Liverpool was a deflected strike by a player few expect to be on the end of goals in Damien Delaney, but even that will of course change the mood and give the trailing team a second wind. There should have been a sharper reaction to this potential danger.
The second area to review is the defence. Now, it’s far too easy to just claim ‘these defenders aren’t good enough, let’s buy more highly-rated defenders, that’ll fix it’. That isn’t how it works. There is more to defending than the market value of a team’s back four.
I think the mentality of the full-backs is one area of weakness. Glen Johnson and Jon Flanagan have put in some tremendous contributions as individuals this season but can leave the side vulnerable by bombing forward so much. Even if Liverpool decide they want more than three goals as they did on Monday, do the full-backs really need to be as involved in this as they are in the first half?
Also, how to protect the back line is as important as the actual ‘defenders’, per se. We’ve seen a range of people from Joe Allen to Lucas to Steven Gerrard try to protect the back four. Do Liverpool need more of a spoiler player, of sorts? Someone who isn’t afraid to come on for the last 20 and just completely mess up the momentum of the team chasing down Liverpool’s lead?
They don’t necessarily need the technical skill of the three men above, nor any sort of application to Brendan’s philosophy. Was Sir Alex Ferguson ‘renowned’ for one style or philosophy of football? No – all he cared about was winning, and would adapt where necessary in order to survive at the top.
Which leads into my final point - contingency tactics. The way Rodgers has the team playing is fantastic to watch. Liverpool fans would not want this to be de-emphasised. But there’s no reason that a team’s trademark style cannot be supported by more pragmatic approaches to protect what their explosive starts have earned.
Rodgers talks about his unbridled faith in his ‘Plan A’. That’s great. He has every right to be proud of what he’s created. But that’s no excuse not to have a ‘Plan B’.
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- Brendan Rodgers
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