After an incredible streak of 11 consecutive Premier League wins, Liverpool's run ended at exactly the wrong time—with Brendan Rodgers' side standing on the verge of a 19th title success had they won at Anfield against Chelsea.
Instead, it was the visitors who left Anfield with three points—the first side to do so since September—and Liverpool are left hoping for Manchester City to slip up in their remaining games. No longer is the title in Liverpool's hands.
A win against Jose Mourinho's side would have put Chelsea out of the running, but Liverpool were unable to break down a very "19th century football" side.
Again, the Liverpool squad were welcomed to Anfield with thousands greeting the team coach down Anfield Road before kick-off, just as they have for the previous three home games.
Rodgers' side, though, have been riding their luck in recent games, winning by one-goal margins in each of their last three matches, at home to Manchester City and away to West Ham and Norwich. Did the weight of expectation and pressure finally take its toll when up against an outfit set out firmly to frustrate and restrict them?
Perhaps that pressure, aligned with Mourinho's tactics, became too much, as several key players failed to produce displays of the quality we've come to expect this season.
Luis Suarez is set to collect the PFA Player of the Year award Sunday evening, but he was far from his best and cut a frustrated figure at times. He wasn't the only one inside Anfield frustrated.
Nobody has embodied Liverpool's unexpected title surge this season than their captain, but Steven Gerrard's error in first-half stoppage time could not have happened at a worse moment this season. Not only did it play perfectly for Chelsea to sit even deeper and more defensively throughout the second half, but it also ruined Gerrard's game.
Up until that point the captain had been his usual impressive self, but as the game progressed, his frustrations got the better of him as he attempted to rectify for his error, throwing in shot after shot from outside the box—playing straight into Chelsea's hands in the process.
Gerrard's mistake was reminiscent of his error that allowed Chelsea to all but secure the title back in 2010. That day it was a poor back-pass that allowed Didier Drogba in to score; here it was a mis-control and slip that allowed Demba Ba the opener.
It also brought back memories of Gerrard's headed own-goal in the 2005 League Cup Final. Three of the captain's worst moments in his career have come against the Londoners.
As the second half progressed, Rodgers made the brave call of putting on peripheral squad player Iago Aspas as Liverpool tried desperately to at least salvage a point. The Spaniard fluffed his lines on more than one occasion, though, and instead allowed Fernando Torres to easily set up Willian in stoppage time to make it 2-0.
Daniel Sturridge's introduction with half an hour remaining failed to make an impact as Chelsea defended centrally and Liverpool failed to expose them in wide areas. Mourinho's side nullified Liverpool's threats expertly, and the Reds resorted to throwing in crosses or shooting from distance.
Final Two Fixtures
Winning the title was never going to be simple. Winning 14 games in a row in the same season would have been unprecedented. This was a hurdle too far.
But Rodgers' side must now regroup and recharge ahead of their final two fixtures—and use the frustrations they experienced to fuel their final push.
The acclaimed psychology of Dr. Steve Peters will be needed more than ever, along with Rodgers' positive approach, in rebuilding confidence and ensuring that Liverpool take maximum points from the games at Crystal Palace and at home to Newcastle United.
Should Liverpool win both of those and City slip up, the title will return to Merseyside after 24 years. Should City too win their remaining games, they would win the title on goal difference, just as they did two years ago.
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