LIVERPOOL’S dramatic collapse at Crystal Palace, squandering a three-goal lead and, almost certainly, their Premier League title hopes into the bargain, highlighted the one obvious deficiency in their make-up, namely their shortage of top quality holding midfield players. In the absence of the suspended Jordan Henderson, Liverpool lacked a midfielder with the discipline and know-how required to put a break on Palace’s rampant forwards. Lucas is there to do a job, but he doesn’t have the athleticism of Henderson.
The situation that left the players, their manager and, most of all, the travelling fans looking shell-shocked, in my opinion threw the spotlight on, of all people, skipper Steven Gerrard and his new “defensive” midfield role. Gerrard is one of the best players Liverpool and England have ever had, but, as I’ve said here before, he is not, repeat not, a defensive midfielder. He reads the game brilliantly, he starts moves from deep positions and he hits marvellous, long balls to the likes of Suarez and Sturridge. But, Gerrard simply does not have a defensive mentality, which is why so many managers, of Liverpool and England, have played him wide right rather than in the centre.
He isn’t a defensive midfielder. He’s a quarter-back, a play-maker. England manager Roy Hodgson was at Selhurst Park last night and I wonder if he is thinking what I am thinking: If Gerrard is to play in a similar role at the World Cup then he must have a minder, a player such as Gareth Barry, of Everton, or Tom Huddlestone, who has done such a great job for promoted Hull City (and who would, surely, have done a similar job for Tottenham had they kept him).
Liverpool have been beating teams because of their vibrant, attacking style but they don’t have the know-how of Chelsea, who stifle the opposition with their “thou shall not pass” approach. To use a popular, modern phrase, their game management was poor. They didn’t start putting passes together, putting the ball into the corners, when the pressure was on. The panic effect does set in at times, when you have been cruising and, suddenly, find yourselves under the cosh. I remember my Oldham side being 5-1 up at Portsmouth and ending at 5-4. Another five minutes and we would probably have lost 6-5! Brendan Rodgers men could have scored 10 on the night at Palace. Instead, they capitulated and, for the first time, the title is now Manchester City’s to claim.