If only they'd gotten in Chelsea's face earlier.
There's a time to figure out what it all means later, and I'll try and start that process at the end of this post. But pretty much every reason Liverpool are not the team we want them to be at the moment was on display, and even some of the less talked about reasons came to the fore.
Some players not ready for this sort of occasion, some players off form due to being used far too much, some odd tactical decisions, a lack of cutting edge and pace, the lack of a world class save when it's needed (and arguably just downright dodgy keeping), and of course inches away from applying the finish needed. How could it be a Liverpool match without one?
All of it came to haunt Liverpool today, and now we're left with a strictly underwhelming season. Which we may have always been, but more on that later.
To the match bullets:
-I noticed on Twitter and elsewhere a bemoaning of the lack of Andy Carroll in the starting lineup. While i was disappointed as well when the lineup was announced, that's easy to say now. And I understood, or thought I did at least. If the plan was to press up high and harass the Chelsea back line through pace --which makes total sense because Terry and Ivanovic are far more built for the aerial and physical battle that Carroll would provide -- then it makes total sense to have Bellamy and Suarez up top. But where was Maxi then? However, once Downing was announced and the match started, the harassing plan clearly wasn't in evidence. If the idea was to be cagey and sort of contain the match, which would of course lead to a more isolated striker, then you need Carroll up there to hold up play and give you a quick, direct, forward pass instead of trying to pass your way through a crowded midfield. And Liverpool were trying to do that with a pretty uncreative, slow midfield. What was the plan, exactly? And whatever it was, how does Downing in his current form fit in to either? So odd coaching decisions? Check.
-It's also too easy to pin one mistake from Enrique on fatigue. It could have been anything. But Enrique's form has dipped massively in the past couple months, and that can only be due to being asked to play too many matches as Dalglish just refused to try anyone else. Would Enrique have tried to get to the through ball for Ramires in true silly fashion had he been fresher? Would he have been so easily beaten for pace? I know the odds would have been better. So fatigued player? Check.
-All that said, Enrique wouldn't have been exposed if not for a silly giveaway by Jay Spearing, which started the whole move. Spearing was also too easily, and I mean far too easily, bypassed by Lampard who set up Drogba for the second. You simply have to keep Lampard in front of you there instead of opening up the heavens for him and the Ivorian. But again, it's probably harsh on Spearing, who has been asked to do far more than anyone would have wanted this season after Lucas's injury. He's woefully under-prepared for a such a task, but he's still basically the only option. Players in too deep? Check.
-And yet, it would have been rendered moot if Pepe Reina once again didn't get caught guessing by Ramires. Just as he did against Odemwingie a couple weeks ago. From that angle, and with that shot, if Reina had stood still and just reacted, he stops that. Pepe Reina is counted on to make a world class save here and there to keep his team in games. And he simply hasn't done it all season. Maybe that's asking too much of a keeper. But one of Reina's class, who flirted with both Arsenal and United last summer, should be asked to do that. Disappointing goalkeeping? Check.
-And of course, inches away from the requisite goal. The marked contrast between Reina and Cech's save tells you all you need to know. Millimeters-off finishing? Check.
It all adds up to a loss.
-Perhaps the most disappointing part is that it definitely felt like the match where Andy Carroll was going to firmly cement the turnaround in his Liverpool career. He changed the match, a tiring Chelsea defense couldn't deal with him, and his goal was unerring. Funny how it came from some pressing of the Chelsea defense into a giveaway.
-I find it curious that it's Jordan Henderson who can be punted all over the pitch, and yet we can't get Stewart Downing off of it when he clearly isn't providing anything. I'm going to punch myself in the balls. Not that Henderson was anything today, but playing in three different spots during the course of the match probably didn't help.
-Because of Spearing's struggles, Gerrard had to drop too deep to be the inspiration Liverpool needed.
And that's that. If Carroll's header had gone in, and there's no evidence to suggest that it did, I have little doubt that Liverpool would have found a winner in extra time against a clearly flagging Chelsea. And then we would have been debating the definition of this season -- two cups vs. disappointing league campaign. But the tale of this season does not hinge on the inch or two away from that goal that Liverpool were. In fact, it doesn't change much. We'll have all summer to figure out what that means.
And now Liverpool's next season will start on August 2nd in a Europa League qualifier, which couldn't be a bigger nuisance. But it's necessary, because Liverpool need that competition for what we will hope is an improving and enlarged squad.
Until then, maybe we'll wonder why Liverpool didn't get at Chelsea sooner. Or why everything was so hard this season, or who wasn't up to it and who was and who stays and who goes. But for now, it's just empty.