Reds made to settle for second best

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The 2-1 win against Newcastle wasn't enough to bring the title to Liverpool. Pic © David Rawcliffe/Propaganda

The 2-1 win against Newcastle wasn’t enough to bring the title to Liverpool. Pic © David Rawcliffe/Propaganda

After a breath-taking comeback by Crystal Palace on Monday night left Liverpool’s title hopes all but over, the Reds knew that a win in their final game against Newcastle would not be enough to see them crowned champions of England for a 19th time – they needed help from elsewhere.

As it turned out, that help was not forthcoming as West Ham’s 2-0 loss at the Etihad meant that Manchester City had won the league for the second time in three years.

Despite coming from behind to beat Newcastle 2-1 in Liverpool’s season finale at Anfield, ultimately the Reds had fallen at the final hurdle.

But should this season be viewed as a success or ultimate surrender by Brendan Rodgers’ side?

Before the campaign began the target was attaining Champions League football; something that had eluded the Merseyside club for five long years. That goal was achieved with three games of the season to spare but by then the supporters’ dreams were of a very different nature.

Liverpool’s remarkable form since the turn of the year, which saw them go on a 16-game unbeaten run, including a series of 11 successive victories, raised expectations and propelled the side to the top of the league.

Top of the table

1) Man City      P 38; Pts 86; GD +65
2) Liverpool     P 38; Pts 84: GD +51
3) Chelsea       P 38; Pts 82; GD +44
4) Arsenal        P 38; Pts 79; GD +27
5) Everton        P 38; Pts 72: GD +22
6) Tottenham   P 38; Pts 69; GD +4

Rodgers’ men seemed to be able to find victory in every manner possible in the second half of the season. They brushed aside their derby rivals Everton and Arsenal in 4-0 and 5-1 victories respectively, producing thrilling attacking football.

Sometimes, they simply outgunned their opponents, as was the case with wins against Stoke, Swansea, Cardiff and Fulham, where Steven Gerrard scored a last minute penalty to secure all three points. Otherwise it was a matter of just grinding out results in tough contests against Sunderland and West Ham.

The Reds looked unstoppable and fans were starting to believe that the long 24 years without a league title would finally be over.

Coming into the final stretch, two key games had been earmarked as potentially season-defining for Liverpool in the two home fixtures against fellow title challengers Manchester City and Chelsea.

The first came against Man City just two days before the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. In a game filled with raw emotion, not least because of the upcoming anniversary, Philippe Coutinho’s late winner earned all three points in a 3-2 victory after Liverpool had given up a two-goal lead.

However, the second real test of Liverpool’s title credentials did not go to plan. The Reds’ inability to break down a packed Chelsea defence at Anfield and an untimely slip by captain Gerrard allowed the Londoners – and more specifically Demba Ba – to capitalise, before Willian wrapped up the game late on to give Jose Mourinho’s side a 2-0 win that handed the title initiative back to Manchester City.

Following this result, Liverpool were relying on last season’s runners-up to falter in any of their final three games to give them any chance at coming out on top, but the eventual champions were relentless as they racked up victories over Everton, Aston Villa and West Ham.

Captain Steven Gerrard will reflect on a missed opportunity to end the long wait for Premier League success. Pic © David Rawcliffe/Propaganda

Captain Steven Gerrard will reflect on a missed opportunity to end the long wait for Premier League success. Pic © David Rawcliffe/Propaganda

The Reds had to settle for second place, something which BBC’s Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen described as an “absolute failure” due to the position Liverpool found themselves in with four games to go.

However, can a side that has gone from seventh last season to finishing runners-up, scoring 101 goals along the way and having their star player, Luis Suarez, named both PFA Player of the Year and Football Writers’ Player of the Year, really be viewed as a failure?

Following Sunday’s farewell victory over Newcastle, where similar set-piece finishes by Daniel Agger and Daniel Sturridge wiped out Martin Skrtel’s own goal, manager Rodgers said: “My overriding feeling at the moment is one of sheer pride in the players.

“The great thing about us is that we will improve, we will get better next season. We’re a young group; we’ll add more players and we’ll be ready to fight again – now we’ve got the belief.”

With news of an imminent deal to keep Rodgers at the helm for the next four years, a return to Champions League football for the Reds next season, and new stadium expansion plans for Anfield, there is certainly cause for optimism for the future around the club.

As skipper Gerrard memorably put it after the victory over Manchester City: “We go again.”

About Jack Birch, JMU Journalism