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Liverpool look a spent force after Arsenal defeat


To the four: Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud scores their fourth goal in the win against Liverpool

To the four: Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud scores their fourth goal in the win against Liverpool


To the four: Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud scores their fourth goal in the win against Liverpool

The slip, we know, will haunt Steven Gerrard for the rest of his life. But what of the stamp?

His Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers, admitted the chance of a top-four finish has gone after two crucial matches, against Arsenal on Saturday and previously Manchester United, in which the former talisman made his now infamous 38-second contribution which culminated in that stamp on Ander Herrera.

"I'm a realist," Rodgers said after the 4-1 defeat at the Emirates. "With the two games that we've had, I think we needed to take something from Arsenal, and if we'd done that then our chances would have been greater. I wouldn't expect the others to slip up, particularly Arsenal or Manchester United."

For the second season in a row, Liverpool will say goodbye to a world-class player - one whose slip near the end of last term was the death knell of their title hopes - and this one will not return £75m to the transfer kitty, as was the case with Luis Suarez.

So what next? Kolo Toure, who admitted after the match he was "not happy with what I did today", insisted winning the FA Cup "would save our season", but the calibre of players Liverpool urgently need will not be lured by an FA Cup in the trophy room.

Toure played dismally, yet his presence in the team consigned Dejan Lovren, the £20m man and the most expensive defender in the club's history, to the substitutes' bench. Mario Balotelli, all £16m of him, had declared himself unfit to travel, a point Rodgers made several times. Not the medical staff, the player.

Lazar Markovic, another £20m, was off by half-time, his most telling contribution a shockingly overhit pass that should have found Raheem Sterling with only an open goal in front him.

Emre Can - £10m - the supposed midfield enforcer, was nowhere to be seen as Arsenal drove the match beyond doubt with three electrifying goals in eight first-half minutes, then, with the game lost, already carrying a yellow card, got sent off for an appalling tackle and is now suspended.

The players mentioned represent the money from Suarez's transfer. Almost all of it. The return on investment is nothing less than shocking.

And with Manchester United likely to spend heavily again in the summer, and Arsenal so obviously superior in almost every part of the pitch, is Liverpool's brief return to the top table already over?

"I look at Arsenal and their bench, the players, the world-class players on the field with big talent, and it shows the continual work we have to do," Rodgers said. "We always felt this year was going to be difficult.

"Our run last year nearly brought us the title. We lost a world-class player and lots of other developments that happened within the club. This year was always going to be difficult for us.

"But it's frustrating that we got ourselves in a strong position over the last three months, got very close, and then to come up short in the past two games."

His task now, he said, was "about restoring Liverpool to the challenge".

"We don't give up. We will fight right to the end. I think most players want to be in the Champions League. But I think also that Liverpool is a great club, a phenomenal club that players want to play for."

That is arguably so. But a glance down Saturday's team sheet certainly gives cause to wonder. Gerrard was the last link with Liverpool's phenomenal past. There is not much around that hints at the possibility of a great future.

Philippe Coutinho, though he was ineffective on Saturday, is one reason to be cheerful. In his view: "It would be a successful season to finish fifth and win the FA Cup."

Such an assessment would not have been true 12 months ago and, in the eyes of Liverpool's fans, is not true now.

Sterling is wrong in what appears to be his view: that he is already too good for Liverpool, that he should be in a team that is regularly winning trophies. But that he should even be thinking it is telling indeed.

Belfast Telegraph

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