Brendan Rodgers will have to resolve Luis Suárez's future, strengthen the defence and make good summer signings
Luis Suárez's collapse into tears at the end of Monday's game at Selhurst Park could be read a couple of ways – either the Uruguayan had been left so devastated by his team's almost certain failure to seal the title that, come the summer, he will feel he simply must move away to win major honours, or instead in that moment of anguish he realised just how desperate he is for Liverpool to do well and thus his commitment to the club will be stronger than ever. Those certain Suárez will remain in situ may well point to the contract extension he signed in December as proof of his loyalty. Yet the striker did the same only a year before he then tried desperately to join Arsenal. As such, no one can say for certain what Suárez will do this summer, yet as he spends time on World Cup duty in Brazil the 27-year-old may well reflect on a campaign in which he was named double player of the year on the back of scoring more than 30 goals for one of the most exciting and improving sides in Europe and decide Merseyside and not Madrid is the place to be for another 12 months at least.
The manner in which Liverpool lost their 3-0 lead to Crystal Palace was stunning but not altogether surprising. Captivating in attack, Brendan Rodgers' side have looked defensively suspect throughout this season, with the raw numbers telling the story. They have conceded 49 goals in 37 games, more than every team in the top eight bar Tottenham, and have kept only 12 clean sheets in all competitions. Injuries have been an issue but, as Jamie Carragher bluntly pointed out on Monday, it is a lack of leadership in the heart of Liverpool's defence that has led to their failure to keep the opposition out, with neither Martin Skrtel nor Mamadou Sakho, who started against Palace, nor Daniel Agger, the other centre-back Rodgers has deployed this season, showing the organisational skills needed at the highest level. How Liverpool could have done with a Carragher, this seasonand it must be a player of his ilk that Rodgers makes a priority for next season.
Steven Gerrard's role in Liverpool's faltering title campaign has been a source of mirth for Mancunians and Evertonians alike – the man who called on his team-mates to not "let this slip" and then made a crucial slip in the 2-0 home defeat by Chelsea last month. Yet it would take a cruel heart to take any real joy in seeing Gerrard miss out on the only major club trophy that has eluded him. For his loyalty, effort and talent, the 33-year-old deserves to be a champion and, if the expected does now happen for Liverpool then it may well be that he will never fulfil that particular dream. That in itself is surely enough for those of a romantic bent to hope there is one final twist in this most remarkable of title races.
If Liverpool finish as runners-up, it will be the third time they have achieved that position in the Premier League era. On each of the previous occasions, in 2001-02 and 2008-09, there was a sense that the club were primed to kick on but they failed to do so because of poor summer transfer activity. In 2002, the then manager, Gérard Houllier, signed El Hadji Diouf, Salif Diao and Bruno Cheyrou – now widely recognised as three of the worst players to have ever represented Liverpool – and his side slumped to fifth in the following campaign. In 2009 Rafael Benítez lost Xabi Alonso, who joined Real Madrid, replaced him with Alberto Aquilani from Roma, and, armed with a squad severely lacking in depth, led them to seventh in his final season in charge. If Liverpool are to build on their improvements this time, it is imperative they do not repeat the mistakes of previous summers – which means keeping their best players and signing ones of similar talent. Worryingly for their fans, the signs are not encouraging – under the ownership of FSG, Liverpool have experienced only one genuinely positive transfer window – in January 2013 – with the others marked by a lack of decisiveness and failure to land key targets.
It was not just Suárez who was in tears at Selhurst Park. At one end of the ground, a few travelling supporters could also be seen wiping their eyes as their team's title charge crashed in front of them after they conceded three goals in the last 11 minutes of the match. The pain is understandable – many Liverpool fans have never seen their side win the title and will now fear they never will – but it should be remembered that this remains a season of success for the club. They are back in the Champions League after a five-year absence having regularly performed in a scintillating attacking manner and in Rodgers they have a manager who, along with his team, appears to have the potential to improve. For a club that not so long ago was taken to the brink of unmitigated disaster by Tom Hicks and George Gillett, and having finished seventh, sixth, eighth and seventh in their previous four campaigns, they must have feared never reclaiming their place among Europe's elite – and that should be something to cherish.