Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Liverpool's Crystal Palace nightmare will make Brendan Rodgers a better manager

Up and down season: Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers

With the deafening cheers of the jubilant Crystal Palace fans ringing in his ears, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers walked down the Selhurst Park touchline on Monday night, stunned by what he had just witnessed.

Interviewed moments later Rodgers conceded the title to Manchester City.

Slightly premature perhaps, given that City are City and in this crazy Premier League campaign it has become virtually impossible to predict what will happen next, but the comments were a sign of the frustration and disappointment swirling around inside the Ulsterman's head and the pain and hurt in his heart after watching his players capitulate in the closing minutes of a memorable encounter in south London.

From 3-0 up before the hour mark playing scintillating football, with the promise of more to come to eat into City's goal difference advantage and cries of 'attack, attack, attack' from the travelling support, to 3-3 at the finish after Palace produced a stirring comeback and Liverpool failed and forgot how to defend, defend, defend!

It was staggering stuff leaving Luis Suarez in tears at the final whistle and Rodgers trying to explain where it all went wrong.

Ten days ago Liverpool were in control of the title race. Then came Steven Gerrard's slip allowing Demba Ba to score and an inability to break down a well organised Chelsea side, who won 2-0 at Anfield.

That was tough for Liverpool fans to accept. Monday night was even worse. When Palace made it 1-3 on 79 minutes, Liverpool should have taken the sting out of the contest remembering that the title could be clinched on points, if City didn't defeat both Aston Villa and West Ham, and not just goal difference.

Ice cold veins were required but the visitors got caught up in the red hot atmosphere.

Liverpool were naïve in continuing to pour forward in numbers, as if they were behind rather than in front and defended hopelessly, paying for it with a late double from lively substitute Dwight Gayle. Before Gayle blew the Merseysiders away bringing on Daniel Agger to aid a physically and mentally shattered back line would have helped quell the storm.

Potentially Liverpool are still only one win away from the title in the last week of the season, which would have been considered an outlandish scenario back in August, yet at Selhurst Park you felt they felt their race was run... a glorious opportunity thrown away.

On the road to nowhere before his arrival, Rodgers has taken this team to special places this season yet in sight of the promised land has come a dramatic fall.

It's up to the manager to pick them up not just for the last game at home to Newcastle, but for next season to go again if City become champions on Sunday.

And it's up to the Carnlough man to learn from mistakes made this term, in particular the last two games.

It's his admirable footballing philosophy that has put Liverpool in this position, but should a title success be on the horizon again, a pragmatic approach combined with the purist ideal might be the way to go, especially when crunch time comes.

Brendan will become an even better manager for this experience.

Even Sir Alex Ferguson lost thrilling title battles before he started to win them at Manchester United.

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