For Steven Gerrard, the wait must continue
Several years later when football historians dissect the Premier League season gone by, there will be two riveting images that will stand out. Jose Mourinho rampaging down the Anfield touchline thumping his chest as if he had just knocked out Mike Tyson, and a much somber sight of Luis Suarez, his face buried in his shirt and the tears just refusing to stop. Liverpool’s fate was sealed by these two defining moments.
Two Mondays ago on an exhilarating night at a buzzing Selhurst Park, Liverpool were “Istanbulled” in dramatic fashion by Crystal Palace. Had there been a penalty shootout after the game to decide the winner, Palace would have won that too. Instead of Jerzy Dudek miraculously keeping out Andriy Shevchenko, the diminutive figure of Dwight Gayle would have smashed it past Simon Mingolet, sending the Palace faithful into raptures. Such was the setting. Such was the script. Absolutely perfect.
The sheer delirium of the Palace players was mirrored by the sorry figure of Steven Gerrard, who was down on his haunches pondering over what might have been. The dejection was there for all to see. But, then the Liverpool skipper got up, picked up an uncontrollably sobbing Luiz Suarez, shoved a cameraman who was hounding the Uruguayan out of his way and went over to applaud the travelling Liverpool supporters. The measure of the man was never in doubt, but that right there was the stuff of legends. In over a decade as Liverpool’s talismanic leader, Steven Gerrard has never come so close to lifting the Premier League trophy.
Ahead of the game against Chelsea late last month, one felt it was Liverpool’s to lose. But that fateful Sunday, with the sun beating down on the lush Anfield grass, with a cloudless Merseyside sky above, a Jose Mourinho tactical masterclass changed it all. A herculean defensive display by Chelsea in a 2-0 win blew the title race wide open. In hindsight, Liverpool did not have to win that day. A draw would have gone down well with most ahead of the last couple of weeks of the season. But Liverpool went out with all guns blazing in search of three points. They tried to break down a resolute Blues’ defence. And then they tried again. Mourinho’s men never relented.
You may call it Brendan Rodgers’ tactical naivety, you may call it they way Liverpool had played all season. Swift, eye-catching, refreshing football. Whatever you may want to label it, it was one big defining moment in the season. By the time the frantic game at Palace ended, the die was cast and Manchester City were frontrunners to clinch a second title in three seasons. The visiting West Ham side on the last day of the season was no match for an imperious City side. The victory was never in doubt, nor was the title.
Sam Allardyce in his pre-match notes before the game against City said that he would love to see Steven Gerrard win it. So did his former teammate Andy Carroll. In reality, all of us wanted to see him lift the trophy. With the contribution he has made over the years, the agony of not getting his hands on that trophy has gone on for maybe too long. In all honesty, over the past several seasons, Steven Gerrard being the great player that he is, he hasn’t had the best of support casts. They came close to winning the title five years ago with a record point tally of 86, but Manchester United were too good in the end.
Fernando Torres was Gerrard’s partner in crime that season, with both of them combining lethally to torment defences. After Torres’ jackpot sale to Chelsea, came to Liverpool a gentleman called Luis Suarez. Deadly with his feet, head and teeth, he seemed like the real deal. In actuality, he proved to be much more. An attacking colossus, a game changer, a player from an altogether different planet. Yet, all these seasons one felt that there were still a couple of pieces left to complete the Liverpool jigsaw. With the second coming of Daniel Sturridge, and the emergence of Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho, the jigsaw seemed complete.
But title winning sides have something else to them which Liverpool lacked this season. That is the ability to close out matches and to win games when you’re no where near your best. When you look back, this was probably their best chance in a very long time. United were abject under Moyes, Mourinho’s priorities lay elsewhere and Arsenal were out of it by the time the new year came around. So, it was City they had to conquer. But they choked at precisely the wrong moment.
At 33, the clock is ticking for Gerrard. But the good thing for him and Liverpool is that they are back to where they once belonged, right in the mix with other Premier League powerhouses. The cash is expected to be splashed in the summer, with Brendan Rodgers looking to plug the gaps in an otherwise strong team. United will come storming back next season, Mourinho will be in his second season in-charge (we all know what happens then) and City will be stronger than ever. So, the task will be even greater for Steven Gerrard & Co. But for now, the wait must continue.