EPL: Devils will leave Reds behind

EPL: Devils will leave Reds behind
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers at Anfield,during the Barclays Premier League match Liverpool v Manchester United on March 22, 2015.

Liverpool were so close. They almost got the Manchester monkey off their backs.

They almost walked alone. But they blew it.

Manchester United put down the Anfield uprising. The Kop witnessed a copout.

Liverpool lost the battle and will now lose the war. They will not recover. They will not stand at the summit again.

Bragging rights belong to yesterday. Tomorrow belongs to Manchester United.

After a single season of superiority, Brendan Rodgers' men have recast themselves in familiar, unwanted roles, chasing devilish coattails and making up the numbers.

It's a sobering reality that should comfort no one.

Sunday's game was dipped in gravitas because it actually meant something beyond bragging rights. The outcome mattered. The points were pivotal. Both teams were chasing Champions League qualification.

For the first time in years, there was little to choose between them. We welcomed the equilibrium. We savoured the uncertainty.

We may not see it again for a while.

Liverpool's tilt at the title last season offered a glimpse of a brighter future, a chance to step away from United's shadow.

At the time, romantics saw the trophy charge as a sign of things to come, a stepping-stone to future glories.

Today, the failed campaign resembles a time capsule, a fleeting moment when the Reds were almost kings.

Last season should've been a springboard. It may be remembered as the high point of an eventual epitaph.

If Liverpool cannot compete on the turf, then they've got little chance in the cutthroat transfer market. The signs were ominous even before a ball was kicked in pre-season.

Despite dangling the carrot of Champions League football, Rodgers still failed to adequately replace Luis Suarez.

Without any European football, Louis van Gaal still signed two of the world's best players (at the time).

In recent months, Rodgers' purchases mostly settled and Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao disappointed, but their signatures said it all.

South Americans will always covet Spanish football. La Liga remains the preferred destination for the prized elite, with Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich offering an attractive back-up option.

But if it really must be Lancashire, then it will usually be United.

The pedigree attracted van Gaal. The legacy pricks up the ears of the game's most accomplished practitioners.

Next season, Champions League qualification will do the rest.

Liverpool's enduring support across South-east Asia is a credit to the region's loyalty, but it isn't entirely replicated elsewhere.

A solitary Champions League triumph in 2005 doesn't quite cut it in territories where two generations of English Premier League followers have been raised on United's dominance.

As a global institution, United still sells itself. Van Gaal should get first bite at the players Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern don't want.

Jose Mourinho may boast the personal magnetism, but Chelsea fall way short of United's stature and Manchester City are facsimiles of a football force, all dressed up with nowhere to go.

FALLEN BEHIND

But all three of these EPL clubs are ahead of the Reds in the pecking order. Liverpool are left to forage on the scraps left behind in the transfer trough.

Their American owners are determined to pursue the Moneyball-lite policy of buying cheaper potential to fit a preconceived template, rather than pay over the odds for existing superstars.

The philosophy may be noble, but it's rendered obsolete when Rodgers' main rivals are prepared to spend top dollar to sit at the top table.

That's why the Anfield loss to United on Sunday had ramifications beyond the result.

If Liverpool failed to overtake United this time around, when the odds were steeped in their favour, how can they possibly keep up next season?

Van Gaal has hit upon a formula that accommodates his belief in football by intelligent design. Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini, Juan Mata and Ander Herrera are suddenly the right pegs for the right holes.

United can only get better. They should finish in the top four.

If they end up above Liverpool, the Red Devils will outspend their rivals. With Champions League football, they can attract superior players to both a branded club and a branded manager.

The Reds won't be able to compete and last season's heroics will be recorded as a blip, rather than a new beginning.

Unless a miracle happens between now and May, Liverpool will be left with nothing but bittersweet memories.

npsports@sph.com.sg

 


This article was first published on March 25, 2015.
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