Reds bid goodbye to Gerrard and Champions League
Stamford Bridge draw feels like a double farewell for Pool captain
(John Terry 5)
(Steven Gerrard 45)
Steven Gerrard left the field to a standing ovation. Both Liverpool and Chelsea chanted the name of the departing Reds skipper.
Jose Mourinho applauded the Stamford Bridge crowd for acknowledging the finest English footballer of his generation.
The poignant response to Gerrard's substitution in the 78th minute was the high point of the game. It was also the lowest point for Liverpool.
Gerrard's absence next season will be felt less than the Reds' absence from the Champions League.
The 1-1 draw last night pretty much ended Liverpool's season, bar the shouting of the mathematicians.
Brendan Rodgers' campaign promised so much and delivered so little. The tribute to Chelsea's success before kick-off only underlined Liverpool's failure.
The guard of honour was a reminder of how close the Reds were last season and how disappointing they have been this time around.
The much-trumpeted ritual was as painful as it was pointless, a gimmicky Premier League PR exercise that appeared excruciating for all concerned.
Both John Terry and Gerrard couldn't wait to get it out of the way.
Organisers released some feeble pyrotechnics, but a few plumes of flame couldn't heat up the exercise. The game did that.
Terry showed far greater enthusiasm in the fifth minute with a thumping header to give Chelsea a well-deserved lead.
The Blues' slick, efficient football, culminating in a corner reaching their leaping skipper, showed Jose Mourinho's side at their best.
Rickie Lambert's inability to stay in the same time zone as Terry at the corner showed Rodgers' recruitment policies at their worst.
Lambert featured only because a fit Mario Balotelli was considered unworthy of a place on the bench. Both should be off at the end of the season.
Chelsea, in stark contrast, unleashed the second-stringers and left Liverpool looking second-best in most departments. Mourinho made five changes, altering the complexion of the spine, but it was the visitors who appeared handicapped.
At 19, Ruben Loftus-Cheek made his Premier League debut alongside Jon Obi Mikel and wasn't overawed by the occasion.
Indeed central midfield took on the appearance of an hourglass, with the sands of time running away from Gerrard and towards Loftus-Cheek.
Two Englishmen at opposite ends of their career, both men epitomised the current state of their respective clubs. The future looks a lot brighter for Chelsea than it does for Liverpool.
Just before half-time, Gerrard chased Cesc Fabregas with all the success of Wile E Coyote pursuing Roadrunner. The Spaniard dumped Gerrard on his backside.
The home crowd roared. A Gerrard slip against Chelsea conjures dreadful memories. The symbolism was obvious, another uncomfortable chapter in the inevitable demise of a legend.
But the legend wasn't ready to conform to cliche. He ripped up the script.
In the 45th minute, Gerrard lost Mikel in the box to nod in Jordan Henderson's free-kick.
Two headers. Two skippers. Two goals.
If Gerrard and Terry had displayed their leadership qualities, their defensive colleagues had done anything but. They were poor goals to concede.
The second half followed a similar Chelsea pattern, happy to concede possession, safe in the knowledge that opponents lack the quality to kill off games at the Bridge. Unbeaten home records warrant that kind of confidence.
Liverpool kept trying, bringing on youngsters Jerome Sinclair and Jordan Ibe, but the substitutions only underlined the gulf in squad depth. Chelsea had already brought on Gary Cahill and Nemanja Matic.
The Reds didn't lose face, but they pretty much confirmed their absence from the Champions League next season.
Finishing in the top four was the minimum requirement for Liverpool.
Whatever the yardstick, whatever the injuries, whatever the excuses, the conclusion is unavoidable.
Rodgers may keep his job, but Liverpool have lost their way.
- Man City 6 QPR 0
By the numbers
John Terry is the highest-scoring defender in English Premier League history. Before his goal against Liverpool last night, he was the joint top-scorer with David Unsworth on 38.