On an afternoon where victory for Liverpool against Chelsea was imperative, Brendan Rodgers’ decision to bring on youngster Jerome Sinclair was telling, writes Henry Jackson.
The 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge means that Liverpool’s chances of finishing in the Premier League top four are over, given Man United‘s six-point lead and superior goal difference over the Reds.
Once Steven Gerrard had equalised just before half-time though, the Reds had a real chance to kick on and earn all three points against Jose Mourinho’s undercooked champions.
Midway through the second-half, Rodgers decided to change things up a little. He brought off the hugely disappointing Rickie Lambert, and replaced him with Jerome Sinclair.
The 18-year-old is a virtual unknown to anyone not associated with Liverpool, and his arrival to proceedings was his first ever appearance in the Premier League.
This is now the longest appearance of Sinclair's professional career…
— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) May 10, 2015
Given that the visitors were in a must-win situation at the home of the champions, the decision to bring Sinclair on, and indeed select him in the squad over more experienced strikers, was extremely revealing. The youngster was understandably ineffective.
If the fact that Rodgers feeling Sinclair could affect the game more than Lambert wasn’t damning enough, what about Mario Balotelli and Fabio Borini?
The Italian duo were both left out of the matchday squad altogether, which surely confirms that both will be deemed surplus to requirements from this point on.
A trio of exits?
With the likes of Danny Ings and Christian Benteke being linked with moves to Anfield this summer, and Divock Origi returning from his loan spell with Lille, you have to wonder whether Lambert, Balotelli and Borini are all heading for the exit door.
With Daniel Sturridge‘s season ruined by injury and Luis Suarez’s exit to Barcelona understandably leaving a gaping hole in attack, it was the aforementioned trio’s job to bring a consistent flow of goals in 2014/15.
They have all failed spectacularly though. They have registered a pathetic eight strikes between them, from a combined total of 80 appearances, and barring the odd very slight sign of promise from Balotelli, none of them have ever looked even remotely Liverpool class.
There are many factors behind the Reds’ disappointing campaign, whether it be managerial errors, injuries or a lack of consistency, but the performances of Lambert, Balotelli and Borini have really hurt the team.
Lambert’s display against Chelsea was just the latest showing of striking ineptitude, and it affected those around him.
The 33-year-old had the movement of a tree for much of the game, with one attempt to get on the end of a defence-splitting Jordan Henderson pass horribly unsuccessful.
The Englishman created no chances for teammates throughout the game, and didn’t win a single duel all afternoon. John Terry relished playing against him.
Players like Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana are at their best when they have a mobile striker playing ahead of them. Lambert could not be further from that.
Lack of ruthlessness once again
It was not all Lambert’s fault, however. Once again a lack of substance in the final third proved to be Liverpool’s achilles heel throughout the game against the Blues, ddespite a fairly pleasing performance.
From Lazar Markovic‘s woeful pass to Raheem Sterling against Arsenal, to Sterling and Adam Lallana‘s various misses home and away against United, Liverpool just haven’t been lethal at key moments. It has cost them a place in the Champions League.
Against Mourinho’s men, they had their chances to nick a potentially important victory, but time and time again the final ball or the finish was erratic.
Sterling and Lallana both dragged efforts well wide of the target, Philippe Coutinho hit the side-netting when he should have done better and Henderson snatched at an effort in the dying seconds.
Too many crosses were either over-hit or straight into the arms of the giant Thibaut Courtois, and Emre Can‘s brain-dead shot at the end seemed to sum it all up. A lack of experience certainly plays a part.
Despite his ageing legs and decreasing influence, it was Gerrard who once again showed a clinical edge, just as he did against QPR last weekend.
The fact that the skipper has found the net more times than any other Reds player this season is telling in itself, regardless of whether he takes penalties. It’s not right that he should still be leading the way in that area.
Adding guaranteed goals to the team is of paramount importance this summer, whether that be with new signings or improving current players.
Liverpool are in dire need of some midfielders and wide men who can accumulate 10 to 15 goals a season, and at least one striker who will be as potent as a fit and firing Sturridge.
Getting rid of Lambert, Balotelli and Borini certainly seems a logical place to start, and the money the club receives for the trio simply must be spent more wisely this time around. This lack of ruthlessness must stop.
All statistics provided by Squawka.
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