1. Oh, Steven Gerrard
By Sunday night, Brendan Rodgers’ fixation on a pair of buses dominated headlines, but whether they were unintentional or clever, the sentiments only served to distract from the bigger stories surrounding Liverpool’s loss. Just as we had become comfortable with the idea the Reds would claim their first Premier League title, a 2-0 loss at home to Chelsea has handed control to Manchester City, with the team captain’s mistake allowing José Mouinrho’s largely second-choice lineup to take control at Anfield.
Of course, we can cite an array of mitigating factors to say Gerrard’s slip, giveaway, and inability to recover on Demba Ba’s late first half goal could have been offset. But we also know, against a team choosing to set up like Chelsea, the first goal could very well decide it. Sentimentally, we want to cast the importance of Gerrard’s mistake in a softer light. Practically, we may end up understating its severity.
(MORE: Liverpool 0-2 Chelsea: Blues stun leaders after Gerrard’s blunder)
Gerrard’s time at Liverpool had become one of the ledes when framing the Reds’ resurgence. Between 16 seasons at the club, his chances to leave, and his connection to Hillsborough, Gerrard’s personal story had become second only to the club’s revival when describing the significance of this title run. If his slip costs ends up being the difference, it will be too cruel.
(MORE: Rodgers slams Mourinho’s defensive tactics after loss)
2. José Mourinho’s “bluff” comes good
As the Chelsea manager threatened to start a second choice team at Anfield on Sunday, many onlookers were ready to call his bluff. Surely those were mere mind games. Then came a team where only one, maybe two players were both starters and playing in their normal position. Just as he’d threatened to do after drawing in Madrid, Mourinho put all his eggs in the Champions League basket.
But metaphorical eggs don’t win games. Players do, as does strong planning and, sometimes, good fortune. All three went in Mourinho’s favor on Sunday. His choices may have selected reserves, but those reserves played well, executing a plan that gave the team its best chance to stay in the title race. Along the way, it also preserved Mourinho’s key talents for Wednesday at Stamford Bridge.
This all circles back to our first point, though. Chelsea were going to have a difficult time getting out of Anfield with a win unless it got some help. Given Mourinho’s selection and tactics, Gerrard’s error looms even larger.
3. Manchester City solves Palace, takes control of title destiny
We’re still not so used to Crystal Palace being good that we’re ready to laud City’s 2-0 win at Selhurst Park. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t, though. As both Chelsea and Everton found out recently, Crystal Palace is capable of derailing various levels of European aspiration. The Eagles posed the same challenge to City’s title hopes.
So let’s laud. City not only managed the challenge at Selhurt; it broke through after four minutes. Yaya Touré’s return to the team put the Citizens up two at half time. They held Tony Pulis’s side to a mere three shots and did something no other team’s done since March. They beat Crystal Palace.
(MORE: Crystal Palace 0-2 Manchester City: Pellegrini’s men grab upper hand for title)
This is how talented teams are supposed to manage the Eagles, but it’s rarely actually happened. Palace had entered the game one a five-game winning streak and a chance to move into the top half. To City’s credit, that didn’t happen, with the Citizens’ performance showing the lessons of an up-and-down campaign could pay off in a hardened team’s title run.
4. Giggs restores sanity to Old Trafford as Van Gaal inches closer
Forgive Manchester United fans’ elation at a big win over Norwich City, but given what they’ve been through this season, fixating on one good result (no matter the opponent) is understandable. Their winter is finally over. The gloom that met each day of that final, grey season has given way to something brighter. Thanks to braces from Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata, Ryan Giggs’ managerial debut ended with 4-0 win over the visiting Canaries – a result that felt as much a rebuke of David Moyes’ era as the dawn of a new one.
(MORE: Manchester United 4-0 Norwich City: Giggs Era is off to a fantastic start (video))
That new one is inching closer. Monday morning headlines in England reflect what people have not-so-secretly whispering for months: Louis Van Gaal is going to be the next manager at Old Trafford. There was no secret handshake, nor were there any other promises made, but since mid-February — when Van Gaal has started aiming for the move amid news Moyes could be fired post-Olympiakos — all the pieces have lines up. The non-sensical idea that Carlo Ancelotti might leave Real Madrid for the post only confirmed the notion Van Gaal was the likely choice.
If United close the season as strong as it played on Saturday, some will call for Giggs to get a shot. His day will come, but that day’s not now. Van Gaal is the perfect choice to lift United back into the top four. After two years of him, though, the team will be ready to anoint Giggs their next chosen one.
5. Sunderland surge out of the drop
The Canaries’ loss was only the latest step toward what’s become an inevitable relegation, with a difficult closing stretch giving Norwich only faint hopes of climbing out of the bottom three. If that squad’s in need of inspiration, however, they need look no further than the team above them in the table. Closing out an 12-day, seven-point stretch, Sunderland’s 4-0 victory over Cardiff City vaulted the team out of the bottom three for the first time this season, with Gus Poyet’s side sitting 17th after Sunday’s result.
The loss leaves Cardiff City, the other club seemingly destined to go down, in last place, with only Fulham separating them from Norwich City. Given how the Whites have played under Magath, they’re capable of staying up, but they’ll need help from with Sunderland or Aston Villa. They’ll also need to avoid more disappointments like Saturday’s against Hull City.
Given the Villans were trounced 4-1 at Swansea on Saturday, Aston Villa looks most likely to oblige. Paul Lambert’s team has not won a game in six weeks.
6. Luis Suárez – PFA Player of the Year
In one of the easiest votes in recent history, Luis Suárez’s peers made the right choice, handing out an award that’s been destined to go to the Uruguayan ever since Aaron Ramsey was injured this fall. Even if the Arsenal midfielder had stayed healthy, though, he would have had the near-impossible task of keeping up with one of the most prolific seasons in league history. Despite finishing up a carry-over suspension at the beginning of the season, Suárez has 30 goals – 11 more than the next non-Liverpool player on the Premier League’s scoring charts.
When Suárez came over from Ajax in 2011, most dismissed the notion he would ever replicate the ridiculous scoring rates he posted in the Netherlands. After all, the Eredivisie is a league where defense is only a theory. Yet after scoring 55 times over his last two Premier League seasons, Suárez has rekindled the notion. In his last two full seasons in Amsterdam, Suárez has 57 goals.
Suárez has turned the Premier League into the Eredivisie, as ridiculous as that sounds. In that light, a Player of the Year honor seems insufficient. I’m not saying we should create a Destroyer of English Leagues honor, but if we did, Suárez would be the lead contender for it.