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Analysis: Liverpool slips allow City to succeed United

We look back on a bittersweet season from the Reds and other points of discussion.

Steven Gerrard appears dejected during Liverpool's game with Chelsea at Anfield.
Steven Gerrard appears dejected during Liverpool's game with Chelsea at Anfield.
Image: PA Wire/Press Association Images

MANCHESTER UNITED’S DRAMATIC disintegration during the 2013-14 Premier League season created a power vacuum that produced one of the most fascinating English title races in recent memory.

While United toiled under Alex Ferguson’s ill-fated successor David Moyes, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool took it in turns to lead the table, before Manchester City galloped up on the rails to outflank them all.

Playing tribute to his side, who also won the League Cup, City manager Manuel Pellegrini said: “They always believed what I told them about how I wanted to play and how I think football should be.”

The title was just reward for a team whose cavalier attack plundered 102 goals and dealt crushing defeats to United, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur — among others — but it took Liverpool to collapse for City to triumph.

With three games remaining, Liverpool led the table and had a first title since 1990 in their sights, after a scintillating run of 11 straight wins that captured the imagination of the country’s football fans.

Liverpool’s spring surge coincided with the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough stadium disaster, in which 96 of the club’s supporters died, but the tide of emotion could only carry them so far.

Instead, an untimely slip by captain Steven Gerrard enabled Demba Ba to score the opening goal for Chelsea in a 2-0 win at Anfield and when Liverpool then blew a 3-0 lead in a 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace, the game was up.

It was a bitter blow for 33-year-old Gerrard, who, with cruel irony, had been caught on camera rallying his team-mates after their 3-2 win over City in April by crying: “This does not slip now!”

- Trauma at Old Trafford -

For all manager Brendan Rodgers’s protestations that it was “a mistake that can happen to anyone”, the sight of Gerrard vainly scrambling to his feet as Ba raced away from him will be the image that defines the season.

Chelsea’s victory at Anfield confirmed that manager Jose Mourinho remains the game’s arch tactical counter-puncher, but he had to settle for a third-place finish in his first season back at Stamford Bridge.

Arsenal, meanwhile, qualified for the Champions League for the 17th season running and can end a nine-year trophy drought by beating Hull City in Saturday’s FA Cup final.

The first half of the season had promised even more, however, as a side stimulated by the club-record acquisition of Mesut Ozil and inspired by the sensational form of Aaron Ramsey surged to the top of the table, only to fall away.

Soccer - FA Cup - Sixth Round - Arsenal v Everton - Emirates Stadium Source: EMPICS Sport

(Mesut Ozil started the season in excellent form – John Walton/EMPICS Sport)

Only three points separated fifth-place Everton and sixth-place Tottenham Hotspur at the season’s end, but their supporters’ emotions were worlds apart.

While Everton won plaudits for the exuberance of their football under new coach Roberto Martinez, Spurs failed to challenge for a top-four place despite spending over £100 million ($169 million, 122 million euros) on new players.

Andre Villas-Boas was sacked as Spurs manager in December after a 5-0 home defeat by Liverpool and his successor Tim Sherwood finished the campaign harbouring grave doubts about his own job security.

But nowhere was there more turmoil than at Old Trafford, where the post-Ferguson era proved to be one of acute trauma.

- Anelka, Pardew the villains -

Beaten 12 times in the league — seven times at home — defending champions United finished the season in seventh place, which was their lowest placing since 1990 and means that they will not play in Europe next term.

After bucking with tradition by sacking Moyes in late April, they are now expected to ask experienced Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal to steady the ship.

There were surprise success stories elsewhere, with Southampton and Stoke City overachieving, while Tony Pulis masterminded a startling transformation at struggling Crystal Palace, who finished the season in 11th place.

Sunderland also enjoyed the fruits of a mid-season managerial change, as Gus Poyet led the club to safety from the foot of the table, but other trigger-happy club owners had less luck.

Cardiff City, Fulham and Norwich City all succumbed to relegation after firing their managers, with Fulham going through no fewer than three head coaches in Martin Jol, Rene Meulensteen and Felix Magath.

While 31-goal Liverpool striker Luis Suarez put a troubled previous campaign behind him to become the season’s outstanding player, Nicolas Anelka and Alan Pardew emerged as the villains of 2013-14.

Troublesome French striker Anelka left West Bromwich Albion after being banned for five matches for performing the ‘quenelle’ — a gesture associated with anti-Semitism — while Newcastle manager Pardew was hit with a seven-game ban for headbutting Hull midfielder David Meyler.

City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs and United will all strengthen their squads in the close season, but for Liverpool the challenge will be to rediscover the momentum that deserted them at just the wrong moment.

- © AFP, 2014

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