Liverpool are gunning for the title, looking absolutely unstoppable but a completely unpredictable disaster gets in their way and spoils the moment.
Not this season – but 2013/14, when Brendan’s boys were on a scorching run until that game against Chelsea: Steven Gerrard slipped over, Demba Ba scored, Liverpool lost and their title challenge went up in smoke.
You could just think of The Slip as a freak occurrence, the sort of thing that just happened for no real reason and that nobody could’ve predicted. But as Michael Cox explained on this week’s Totally Football Show, there’s more to it than that.
“I don’t think people realise the extent of what happened, but there’s a really interesting back story.
“Gerrard had been playing in this deeper role which he had never really done before. He was really unhappy with his performances at the turn of the year. He went to Brendan Rodgers and said “I don’t think I’m really doing it at the moment, I need to do something different.”
“Rodgers spent a couple of evenings watching tapes of Gerrard and he said the thing he needed to improve on was his head movement when he received the ball – he wasn’t scanning the pitch properly. They agreed that 1) he had to work on that and 2) to help him get a better picture of the pitch, he should be brought into that deep role.
“Once you know that, it’s really interesting what Gerrard does in that situation. He receives a pass from Mamadou Sakho, and he has three looks over his shoulder to the far side, and he’s clearly about to play a diagonal pass.
“The third look seems a bit unnecessary but he’s clearly got this thing that he has to scan the pitch all the time. So the mistake isn’t actually the slip, it’s that he miscontrols the ball because he’s not looking at it, he’s looking over his shoulder. Then he’s so desperate to make up for it he tries to sprint, then slips, then Demba Ba goes through and scores.
“I think there’s more context than him just falling over: there was quite a complex tactical reason for why he was glancing over his shoulder than at his feet.”
Blame Brendan, then. Sort of. Liverpool of course went on to draw 3-3 with Crystal Palace after going 3-0 up, as they tried to absolutely whomp the Eagles in an effort to boost their goal difference.
That does plenty to perpetuate the idea that Rodgers’s Liverpool were a set of one-paced goofs, who not only blew that game but the one against Chelsea too. But Tom Williams isn’t so sure:
“I think this game has been the subject of more after-the-fact revisionism than any other in the Premier League era. What you will hear is that Liverpool, led by Brendan Rodgers, blundered into Jose Mourinho’s tactical trap and this very naive team that we knew couldn’t defend for butter threw away the title.
“This was a team that only really knew one way of playing, and had only really come into existence in the January. It wasn’t the fruit of years of steady progress like Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, but an opportunistic grab for the title.
“I don’t think there was any other way they could’ve approached this. A draw was enough for them – if they’d drawn this game and won their last two, they would’ve been champions – and I think the way they went about the game was entirely normal.
“Up to that mistake by Gerrard, the game had been quite even, a few chances for both teams with Chelsea spoiling things: they got a goal-kick in the first ten minutes and Mark Schwarzer was already time-wasting. Everyone thought “OK, we know how this is going to play out.” Minutes later you’ve got Gerrard having to wrestle the ball off Mourinho to take a throw-in.
“I genuinely feel that if Gerrard doesn’t slip, Chelsea don’t get ahead, and if Chelsea don’t get ahead Liverpool don’t lose the game, and if Liverpool don’t lose the game then they win the title, because they don’t then collapse at Palace because they crazily chase the goal difference.”
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