"STEVEN GERRARD'S LAST MATCH AT ANFIELD!" can't overcome "wow Liverpool have been pretty terrible for almost two months now."
Liverpool's last two matches rolled back the years. Liverpool weren't good in either contest, but Liverpool took four points because Steven Gerrard stepped up when no one else could. Well, Steven Gerrard couldn't today, and no one else could either.
It's sort of fitting. Aside from the Torres and Suarez/Sturridge campaigns (incidentally, the two seasons where Liverpool came closest to the league title), Liverpool have always relied on Gerrard. In the last decade, Gerrard has rarely been able to rely on his teammates.
A 1-3 loss at Crystal Palace in November marked the nadir which prompted Liverpool's turnaround, and a 1-3 loss to Crystal Palace marks a new nadir in Liverpool's last home match. That also seems fitting; it's been quite the season. And that's with Crystal Palace's winner when the goalscorer was offside and Crystal Palace's third with a penalty given for a foul outside the box.
Today followed the template set in the reverse fixture almost perfectly, despite a return for the 3-4-3 from Liverpool, despite a different manager and personnel from Crystal Palace. Liverpool scoring first, but Palace scoring three, constantly more threatening than the supposedly better side, terrifying Liverpool's uncertain defense through counter-attacking pace.
Liverpool's goal was part class but part luck: excellent pressing and a wonderful finish from Lallana, but set up by Martin Kelly's poor pass and Scott Dann's hesitancy when closed down. Both Kelly and Dann remain good Liverpool lads.
But Liverpool couldn't push on from the gift, and were lucky to stay ahead as long as they did: Ledley and Bolasie shooting over, Mignolet outstandingly parrying Puncheon's deflected effort. But Puncheon made no mistake with a 43rd-minute free kick – a free kick won because of Bolasie's pace on the counter, unsurprisingly – inch-perfect and fooling Mignolet into dancing toward the wrong direction.
Liverpool's inability to threaten Palace despite dominating possession and play led Rodgers to switching to the more familiar 4-3-3 in the second half. Liverpool created a few more chances, but Ibe (twice) and Henderson put those chances off-target, but none was an especially dangerous chance. And, of course, Liverpool were summarily punished for failing to take those half-chances: a deep free kick only half-cleared, a 1-2 down Liverpool's left putting Bolasie in, his deflected cross falling to Zaha, who'd been on the pitch for all of 20 seconds, for a tap-in. With both Zaha and Martin Kelly apparently offside.
Liverpool's response was to bring on Lambert and Lucas, to switch to 4-2-3-1 with Gerrard behind the substitute striker. And it worked about as well as it had when we saw it earlier this season. I'm struggling to this of any Liverpool opportunities besides Gerrard's placed shot easily saved by Hennessey and a deflected Emre Can center that almost became an own goal. Meanwhile, Bolasie hit the crossbar and Liverpool needed another wonderful reaction save from Mignolet to deny Puncheon.
With three minutes left, Sinclair replaced Moreno, Liverpool now 4-4-2, the fourth formation in the match. Three minutes later, another Palace counter, Lucas taking out Zaha inches outside the box but with Moss pointing to the penalty spot. Sigh. Mignolet made the save, Murray was first to the rebound. That's now three consecutive league fixtures where Crystal Palace scores three against Liverpool.
Liverpool's three substitutes arguably made Liverpool worse, although it's not as if Liverpool were very good to begin with, and by the 87th minute, Liverpool were simply desperate. Two of Palace's three substitutes scored.
Crystal Palace had lost their last four matches, by the way.
This is life. It isn't fair. Very few of us get happy endings, very few of us get what we deserve. Michael Jordan's basketball career ends with the Washington Wizards. Muhammad Ali loses a unanimous decision to Trevor Berbick. Roy of The Rovers has to have his foot amputated. Steven Gerrard suffers through the last year that we've suffered through, leaving Anfield with a dismal, dreary defeat to the team that dashed his title hopes 12 months ago.
Gerrard did not deserve to leave Anfield with that result. But Liverpool very much did.