Stephen Darby missed a chance to clear, and Juan Manuel Vargas nipped in and punished the error by crossing for Alberto Gilardino to slot home the stoppage-time winner at the Anfield Road end.
The Reds had already been eliminated from the Champions League and were just fulfilling the last of their group fixtures. That said, this remains the most recent match in European football’s premier competition to be staged on Merseyside.
Three managers, three-and-a-half seasons and an awful lot of money later, here the club are.
Having just finished 12 points off fourth-placed Arsenal and stationed down in seventh, it is tempting to say that Liverpool have never been as far away from re-joining the elite teams on the continent as they are right now, but that belief all comes down to whether or not you believe that there have been signs of progress stirring in recent months.
The man who wants, and let’s face it has to believe that those signs are there is manager Brendan Rodgers.
Given a loose leash and not set the target of Champions League qualification by Reds owner John Henry upon his arrival at the club last year, according to The Guardian, Rodgers could go about his business without the sort of intense pressure that we often see affect the likes of Arsene Wenger and a succession of former Chelsea managers.
The result was a campaign in which Liverpool didn’t necessarily have to show that they were good enough to reach the top four, but more that they possessed the quality to possibly get there in the future.
It made for an odd, curate’s egg of a season. Will the manager be allowed another one of those in 2013/14? Well no, probably not.
“Signs of progress” will simply have to become points on the board if Rodgers is to retain the goodwill of many that he has built up so far. But if he fails to earn those points that would propel Liverpool towards the top four, could he face some serious questions from Henry and Fenway Sports Group?
Rodgers already seems to have got his way ahead of a busy summer with the move for Kolo Toure and the reported signing of Iago Aspas, as reported by the Liverpool Echo.
Whereas the oldest player to be signed by Liverpool last summer was winger Oussama Assaidi―who arrived just days after his 24th birthday―the Reds have now added the vast experience of 32-year-old two-time Premier League winner Toure and reportedly lively Celta Vigo forward Aspas, who will be 26 by the time the new season kicks off and who has just enjoyed the two most productive seasons of his career.
Their arrivals hint that Rodgers is planning for a season in which the most telling sign of progress will be the league table.
Perhaps he knows that a top-four finish or at the very least a serious tilt at one is what is needed for him to avoid very uncomfortable questions being fired in his direction from Boston this time next year.
You get the feeling that Henry and Fenway are not going to be as tolerant of missing out on the riches that the Champions League brings for yet another season, and so the pressure is likely to be on Rodgers right from the very start of the campaign.
Is he going to be sacked if Liverpool don’t finish in the top four?
The trust that FSG have put in him means that he’ll have to miss that target by a long way for that to happen, but he’ll at least have to show that the Reds are approaching a level they last enjoyed in December 2009 for there to be no doubts about him come this time next year.
Talking about doing that is likely to dominate much of the Northern Irishman’s summer―but actually delivering will be the toughest task of his career so far.
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