There are 35 minutes to go and you're three nil up. Your closest rival for the league title has a game in hand in a couple of days and a goal difference gap of nine is now just six. Your opponent has nothing to play for as European football cannot be attained and relegation does not threaten them. Your last two goals have come in quick succession from your soloists. You suspect that a big win will put pressure on a team that has to win two more games while you will surely win this one with such a healthy lead. The opposition players could be on the verge of cracking and falling apart so perhaps continuing to attack relentlessly with overloads in various attacking areas may be the necessary course of action. What do you do?
This may not be an exact assessment of the thoughts running through Brendan Rodgers mind but this was an approximation of the challenges Rodgers faced with over half an hour remaining. Before the game, Liverpool's manager was sending the message out that his side were capable of producing big wins and his players reacted to each goal they scored as if they were playing a second leg tie in a Champions League game. Except that it appeared to be a scenario where Liverpool were five nil down from the first leg and needed to score five away goals to progress. To legislate for a home goal scored, Liverpool would most likely need to score six.
So, who or what was Rodgers fighting against on Monday? Crystal Palace? Manchester City? The gap in goal difference? All three? Liverpool have won big games this season and maintained control of the game once a lengthy lead was established. Liverpool have the ability to control games but have shown that the necessary composure when protecting a lead can be absent when desperately required. Midfield control, midfield balance, defensive composure, defensive concentration, and just a bit of canniness as a side contributed to a three goal swing in Crystal Palace's favour. Yet many have shrugged their shoulders and claimed this is what Liverpool do. Liverpool attacks with a freedom that allows other teams a chance. If that is the case, should Rodgers have gone for an unlikely but increasingly possible result with the players at his disposal?
Liverpool should have managed the game better than the world saw on Monday but conceding one goal wouldn't be the trigger that some would think. Instead of being the catalyst for a more cautious approach, Damien Delaney's 79th minute goal was an irritant, an error that had to be erased. Instead of drawing closer to Manchester City's lofty goal difference total, Liverpool were one back from what they achieved with minutes remaining to restore previously established progress. Three forward steps became two and instead of four being the aim, a restoration of the three steps was necessary. This was the gamble Liverpool were playing. Put it all on red, glorious and blinding red.
Crystal Palace fired in a second only two minutes later and the gamble was over. That should have been the trigger for a defensive approach or more control of the game against a side pushing for an inconceivable third and equalising goal. Perhaps that was the ploy for so long with the players and thin squad Rodgers had at his disposal. Gamble, gamble, gamble. Go for the wins and keep the streak going as Chelsea and Manchester City lurked nearby in the shadow of a rising red revolution. The gamble changed once Liverpool stumbled at Anfield from a mistake and a failure to play a patient, intelligent game. Goalscoring was no longer designed to win games but to overcome a superior goal difference.
You score three and we'll score four became we're quite a few goals behind and need to score a generous helping of goals but please do not score any goals against us because that will set us back further and it may cause the players to lose their composure, frustrate them, and diminish any progress made by scoring a few against you. Liverpool had already displayed a worrying anxiety in games where two goal leads were established and winning game after game did not change this fact. Going two goals up against Sunderland at Anfield should have been the end of the contest or the start of a drubbing. Finding a two goal lead so quickly at Norwich City should have been the precursor to further pages in the tale of a hapless side at the mercy of an unforgiving Luis Suárez. Yet Liverpool held on to the narrowest of leads nervously and were in danger of conceding a late equaliser.
Liverpool lost sight of the three points in London but Rodgers gambled on three points and a big win. Sometimes when you go all in, the house wins but there are times when the unexpected happens. Something that you thought could work if a few things fell into place. Rodgers probably thought that was the case after Suárez scored his 31st league goal of the season. While there is no excuse for the collapse nor the structural or squad deficiencies that contributed to to such a ridiculous turn of events, there may be a valid reason for pursuing such a risky course of action that had the Football Gods cackle with vile delight.
One thing is certain, Brendan Rodgers does not need to learn how to be brave and daring in the pursuit of victory but the lessons from Liverpool's last two league matches could provide the Antrim man with the knowledge to become the one who finally steers Liverpool Football Club to domestic glory once more.