Those who follow the Reds closely have become all too familiar with the Anfield outfit shooting themselves in the foot. Prior to the clash against Southampton, Liverpool had claimed four consecutive victories, scoring an impressive 15 goals in the process. Everything appeared to be coming together and Rodgers’ methods finally seemed to be sinking in. And then this.
Some would suggest that Liverpool’s dreams of competing in the Champions League next season were over a long time to go. Others will claim that a top-four finish cannot be ruled out until it is mathematically impossible to achieve. But the Reds now sit a significant nine points behind Spurs, with just eight games left to play.
Claiming such ground on Andre Villas-Boas’ men within the space of two months while hoping both Arsenal and Everton end the season in dismal form is not beyond the realms of possibility, but would probably require the ‘perfect’ finish skipper Steven Gerrard recently spoke of. Given the irritating inconsistency Liverpool have shown this season, that ‘perfect’ finish is unlikely to happen.
But a quick glance at the table also suggests that it may not have been as distant a dream as some had thought prior to this game. Following the 3-2 victory over Spurs, if Liverpool had managed to beat Southampton, they would have been just six points away from the Londoners with a better goal difference. There may not seem much difference between six and nine points, but with few games remaining, every point is vital. The Reds have all but ruined their chances with the recent defeat.
Questions must be asked about why Liverpool perform so well at times – the Reds have claimed big victories over Norwich, Wigan, Queens Park Rangers, Fulham, Sunderland and Swansea – yet have so many off days against other opposition, including the likes of Southampton, West Bromwich Albion, Stoke and Aston Villa.
Is it a psychological issue? Is the attitude or complacency of the players to blame? Is it the fault of the manager and his tactics? Or is Rodgers’ squad simply not strong enough?
At Southampton, Rodgers was forced to hand out-of-favour centre-back Martin Skrtel a place in the starting line-up as Jamie Carragher was injured. If the Slovakian was trying to impress and regain his place permanently, then his display had the opposite effect.
Meanwhile, a minor injury to Lucas meant that Joe Allen, who has played with a shoulder complaint for five months, was given a start. Lucas replaced Allen at half-time. Some have suggested the Brazilian should have played in the first place. Others argue that the recently impressive Jordan Henderson deserved to play.
The midfield conundrum is one Rodgers has struggled with over the course of the season. He may have other issues to solve too, as inconsistent Liverpool prepare for the next campaign.