After Brendan Rodgers watched his side suffer a heavy defeat at the Emirates Stadium, the Northern Irishman admitted any notions of Champions League qualification were more romantic than rational. Endeavouring to secure Champions League football for a second successive season, Liverpool have watched this dream transform into a nightmare. Ripped apart defensively by the Gunners, the Merseyside misfits conceded three goals in the last eight minutes of the first half: a capitulation that seemed to symbolise their season.
Plundering ‘Pool – How one game summarised Liverpool’s season
An insignificant strike, Jordan Henderson’s goal from the penalty spot was deemed even less significant when Olivier Giroud re-established the home side’s three-goal lead in stoppage time.
Rodgers’ watched on in bewilderment as Arsène Wenger’s men ran riot, and Saturday’s heavy defeat has left Liverpool, who play Blackburn in the FA Cup quarter-final replay this week, facing the unsavoury prospect of Europa League football.
In total control from the very beginning, Arsenal demonstrated moments of brilliance. According to Wenger, the Londoners need perfection until the end of the season if they are to challenge Chelsea for the Premier League title.
Between the 30th and 45th minute, undoubtedly, Arsenal’s fifteen minutes of free flowing football neutered a Liverpool side already hampered by injuries, suspensions and the Raheem Sterling contract controversy.
Interestingly, for all the criticism he has received, Sterling was Liverpool’s best player. Although Liverpool performed abysmally, the 20-year-old managed to inject a few moments of excitement into an afternoon to forget for the visiting fans. Emre Can was red-carded late for a vacuous scissor tackle on substitute Danny Welbeck, and this means he will miss the FA Cup quarter-final away to Blackburn Rovers. Furthermore, through suspension, Martin Skrtel and Steven Gerrard will also be missing.
The fickleness of football is not lost on any manager, and Brendan Rodgers is no exception. Before losing to Manchester United and Arsenal, the Liverpool manager’s right hand was red from all the high fiving, and the 13-game unbeaten Premier League run left him feeling confident, even nonchalant. The top four looked realistic, the Champions League was calling, and Brendan was answering. The Bee Gee’s ‘Stayin Alive’ was on constant loop, Rodgers was the Premiership’s answer to Saturday Night Fever’s John Travolta. On April 4th, when Anthony Taylor blew the final whistle, the 42 year olds boogie-infused dream was well and truly over.
Triumphs and tribulations share an intimate relationship, separated only by the fine print. The previously unimpeachable Rodgers has gone from hero to villain in the space of a fortnight, and that’s football in a nutshell. You’re only ever as hot as your last performance.
If Liverpool are to finish the season strongly, rather ironically, Raheem Sterling, a man harbouring aspirations of plying his trade elsewhere, holds the key.
Craving cups and cash, judging by yesterday’s performance, Liverpool can only offer Raheem the latter – cash. With Daniel Sturridge still nursing his way back to full fitness after a muscle tear, Sterling is the only fully fit, credible striking option left at Rodgers’ disposal. With the likes of Not So Super Mario and Rickie Lambert on the bench, Liverpool’s need for added firepower cannot be emphasized enough.
Danny Ings, Burnley’s highly praised striker, will leave the Premier League minnows when his contract runs out at the end of this season, and the 22-year-old looks Anfield bound. Having already received an offer from David Moyes’s Real Sociedad, reportedly £60,000 a week plus a generous signing-on fee, Ings has no shortage of admirers, with Borussia Monchengladbach and Schalke also monitoring the situation closely.
However, according to reports, Ings favours a move to either Liverpool or Manchester United. In addition to battling it out for a much coveted Champions League place, Liverpool and United also look destined to lock horns in the transfer market.