Belfast Telegraph

Liverpool will learn from Crystal Palace title collapse

By Sam Wallace

The exit route for the away team at Selhurst Park takes the players out of a side door through a gate and onto a coach parked yards from where the supporters are held back by barriers.

On Monday night, the Liverpool team were applauded out one by one by their waiting fans, but they left in silence – with one exception.

Kolo Touré did not play any part in the 3-3 draw with Crystal Palace, other than to lead Luis Suarez off at the end with the Liverpool striker's face hidden in his shirt, but he is affable to a fault and has seen his own fair share of triumph and disaster. "The only way to learn things is to make mistakes."

Touré should know, having become increasingly error-prone the longer his career has gone on.

But this time it was not him at the centre of Liverpool's defence that was so comprehensively unpicked by Palace in the closing stages of the game, exposed by the pace of Yannick Bolasie and, it should be said, the ice-cool finishing of Dwight Gayle, whose contribution was lost in the drama.

Liverpool's defensive collapse on Monday and the subsequent criticism from Brendan Rodgers and Jamie Carragher, has overshadowed all else.

They have now conceded 45 for the season, 18 more than they did on the occasion of their best finish of recent times, that second place in 2008-09 (although their plus-50 goal difference is identical to that season).

Failure to beat Palace also meant that they would not reach the points tally of 86 from that year under Rafa Benitez.

Of course, there is much more to losing a game on the counter-attack than simply picking holes in the back four. They missed the presence of Jordan Henderson, a tireless worker in breaking up the counter-attacking threat of opposing teams.

But even so, one would have expected more from a defence led by Martin Skrtel, a veteran of 2009, who was alongside Carragher for most of that season, especially after the turn of the year, and Glen Johnson, a former Premier League winner himself.

If it does turn out that this is the end of Liverpool's hopes of a first league title in 24 years then talk inevitably turns to the summer and who Rodgers can acquire with a budget fattened by Champions League participation.

There is no reason that Liverpool, if they fail to win the title this week, should view their chance lost for a generation providing they can build sensibly again this summer.

In the summer of 2009, and having come so close, Benitez, beset by the ownership problems at the top of the club, failed to sign Gareth Barry, sold Xabi Alonso and Alvaro Arbeloa and made a £17m investment in the catastrophic Alberto Aquilani.

Within a year of finishing in second place by one point to Manchester United, his team were seventh in 2009-10 and he was out the door that summer.

Of course, after five years at the club and with much energy wasted on the turmoil around Liverpool's owners at the time, Benitez was in a very different place to Rodgers now.

Further Reading

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

Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool deal likely to be four years 

But then the challenges that Rodgers faced and overcame, when he took over the club in 2012 are very different to those he will face taking a team into the Champions League next season and with the expectation of another title challenge.

His signings last summer of Luis Alberto and Iago Aspas, for example, a combined total of £14m in transfer fees have not been a success.

But in the modern transfer market they were a moderate gamble.

Simon Mignolet has been a good acquisition and Rodgers has excelled in the deployment of the younger players such as Raheem Sterling and Jon Flanagan as well as his signings Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho.

That is one reason why all the indications in football are that Adam Lallana has made Liverpool his first choice when, as seems likely, Southampton listen to offers for their England international this summer.

Lallana shares a management agency with Ashley Cole, another potential Liverpool target, although signing Cole presents problems of its own.

Bringing in such an experienced player who desperately wants to continue playing as a first-choice left-back would potentially block the immediate progress of Flanagan, who has switched from the right of late to make that position his own. As Arsène Wenger has decided at times over the years, that immediate uplift of a new signing is not always worth taking for the long-term effect on the young player it blocks.

Over the course of the season, one of the consequences of having a young, successful team is that Liverpool have put themselves in a category with Arsenal when it comes to their attitude to young players. Quite simply, Liverpool are now a club where young players will get a chance – and it would be a shame to lose the emphasis on youth that has marked this season out from any other.

Source: Independent

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