LONDON – One mistake during a 38-game season does not decide who wins the title, but Steven Gerrard will be haunted for the rest of his life if Liverpool does not win the Premier League.
His slip just before half-time last Sunday enabled Djemba Ba to give Chelsea a lead at Anfield which became 2-0 in the final minute with a goal by Willian, who Liverpool tried to sign last summer.
It is 24 years since Liverpool won the title and this season presented its best chance of breaking the stranglehold of Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United.
For all the wonderful moments Gerrard had given his only club, the goals, the leadership, the inspiration . . . a man who epitomizes Liverpool . . . his error against Chelsea will be an ignominious memory alongside his achievements. Gerrard does not deserve it, but he knows football has no sentiment, the game does not just select the bad guys for individual mistakes.
Gerrard’s was almost certainly the moment the title slipped through Liverpool’s fingers.
At 33, this season was Gerrard’s best and probably last chance of being a domestic champion and what happened will haunt him forever if the winners’ medal eludes him.
Had Liverpool just drawn, its fate would still have been in its own hands with two matches to go. A combination of Gerrard’s slip and a defensive masterclass by Chelsea means that City, not Liverpool, now holds all the aces.
It would be true, but a pointless exercise, to remind Gerrard that without his contribution over the past nine months Liverpool would not be within touching distance of the title. The England captain will wrongly, but inevitably, blame himself if City and not Liverpool are first past the finishing post.
The first of the remaining seven matches involving the three title challengers is Saturday’s meeting between Everton and Manchester City. There have been so many unlikely slip-ups involving the three heavyweights recently that predictions have tended to guarantee embarrassment — don’t I know it — but City appears to have the bit between its teeth.
Mauricio Pelligrini is aware that the City’s Middle Eastern owners expect more than the League Cup when the average wage at the club is £5 million a year. A few weeks ago, City was in control of the title, but handed the baton to Liverpool, which has since returned it to the Blues.
City has lost on its last four visits to Goodison Park and Everton still has an outside chance of pipping Arsenal for fourth place. While Everton fans are reluctant for anything that would help Liverpool, Roberto Martinez’s players will be thinking only of three points Saturday, not that a win would benefit the enemy.
Next up is Chelsea against Norwich on Sunday, when the home side will need to eliminate the defensive mistakes that allowed Atletico Madrid to win 3-1 in the Champions League semifinal second leg on Wednesday. Chelsea must beat relegation-threatened Norwich to keep its fading title hopes alive which, despite its European defeat, seems a straightforward task. But we thought that before Chelsea played — and lost to — Sunderland last month.
On Monday, Liverpool travels to Crystal Palace, whose rise under Tony Pulis this season has made him a candidate for Manager of the Year.
Last weekend’s defeat by Chelsea saw the title initiative switch from Liverpool to City, but by the time the Merseysiders play Palace maybe, just maybe the race for the title will be back in the Reds’ hands.
This has not been the most predictable of run-ins. That Palace is safe and has less to play for than Liverpool will not affect the home side’s desire to continue its good form and a packed Selhurst Park will ensure an atmosphere to inspire the Eagles.
City plays its game in hand against Aston Villa on Wednesday, the visitors able to beat the best on their day, having defeated City 3-2 at Villa Park last September and, more recently, surprising Chelsea. The trouble is, Villa has very few such days and if City beats Everton it is difficult to see anything but a home win as the Premier League moves into its final weekend.
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ONLY ROMAN Abramovich knows whether Jose Mourinho will still be in charge of Chelsea next season and even those closest to the Russian billionaire have given up trying to second guess the club’s owner.
Abramovich fired Carlo Ancelotti the season after Chelsea won the double, when it only finished second in the Premier League.
Roberto di Matteo was sent packing soon after leading Chelsea to Champions League success. So Abramovich has dismissed managers for achieving more than Mourinho this season, assuming Chelsea does not win the title.
That would mean a second successive season with no silverware for Mourinho, whose pragmatic style is accepted when the trophies are rolling in, but Abramovich yearns for style rather than substance.
Mourinho’s defensive tactics, designed to stifle the opposition and hit them on the break, worked a treat in the 2-0 win at Liverpool.
Packing his side with defenders against Atletico and trying the same backfired against Diego Simeone’s multi-talented team.
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LOUIS VAN GAAL is poised to be appointed manager of Manchester United next week. And then, a couple of days later, the Netherlands coach will disappear for up to 10 weeks.
If United shot themselves in the foot with David Moyes, the way it is going about appointing van Gaal looks like another recipe for trouble. Though his impressive CV includes four Dutch titles, two Spanish titles, one German title, one Champions League and one UEFA Cup, van Gaal has a look of being yesterday’s man; at 62 he hardly represents long-term investment, while the United players are likely to find his autocratic style very different from what they have been used to.
United’s preferred choice is Carlo Ancelotti, but having led Real Madrid to the Champions League final, the former Chelsea manager will hardly be in a rush to leave the Bernabeu.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.