Stoke City 6: Diouf 22' 26', Walters 30', Adam 41', N'Zonzi' 45', Crouch 86'
Liverpool 1: Gerrard 70'
On March 22, Liverpool had a chance to leapfrog Manchester United into the fourth spot with a win at Anfield. They lost 2-1 in a match that was far more comfortable for the visitors than the scoreline suggested. It was significant in the race for fourth, but not decisive. The loss at Arsenal two weeks later was also significant, but not decisive. The loss in the FA Cup semifinal against Aston Villa assured Liverpool of a trophyless campaign, which was again significant, but, in terms of where Liverpool finished the season in the Premier League table--the only standing that mattered to many--it was neither significant nor decisive.
What proved decisive, for both Liverpool's hopes of finishing in the top four and potentially Rodgers' job as manager, were the weeks that followed, when the third-year boss' side slipped to a scoreless draw at West Brom and dropped all three points at Hull City. Those two results, which came in the midst of a three-match losing streak for Manchester United, effectively ended any chances of Champions League qualification.
The four that followed could also prove costly for Rodgers, whose job wasn't necessarily on the line after the losses to United, Arsenal, and Villa. It surely is now, having taken just five points from the final six matches, with the aforementioned results at West Brom and Hull giving way to a narrow, fortuitous win at QPR on a Gerrard header, a draw at Stamford Bridge with the champions in cruise control, and consecutive losses to Crystal Palace and Stoke City to close out the campaign.
Today's was particularly damning from every angle possible, and it will likely end Rodgers' tenure as manager. There was no fight, no identity, no clear plan in place for where the squad goes from here. And, in all honesty, that's been the case over the past few weeks, with today's capitulation only notable for the scoreline and the finality of it all.
That it was Steven Gerrard's last match as a Liverpool player only made it worse; the captain scored the only goal of the match for the visitors and popped up any and everywhere, but in the end it wasn't even close to being enough as he and his teammates slipped to their worst defeat in the Premier League era. As was the case last weekend at Anfield, today's goodbye was embarrassing for the captain despite supporters' efforts, and his Liverpool career ends in the worst circumstances imaginable.
He will always be remembered as one of the club's greatest-ever players, though, while Rodgers looks left to be remembered as a promising young manager who couldn't match the heights of his sophomore season and, perhaps even more worrying, failed to carry a consistent vision across the course of his third season. His first in charge showed glimpses of attractive attacking football but lacked the personnel and the second showcased strength in versatility with an amazing arsenal of goalscorers, but the bottom fell out in the third save for a midseason change that stopped the bleeding and provided hope in a season that looked to be out of control.
For that he deserves credit, but he also must be held accountable for the bookends. And, by that measure, it feels as though the tide has turned. This is not an active call for his head, as it continues to feel as though he can prove to be an excellent manager. There is plenty of evidence for that, and that's not being blinkered or deluded. He seems to truly love Liverpool and his post as manager, and he's no doubt had an influence in the improvement of a host of players that should be at the heart of the club's future.
Evidence for a change appears to be more convincing at this point, however, and that will likely decide his fate. Today cannot be the only argument used, and had the last two months gone differently, there would be no question about a fourth season in charge. Now it's hard to see a way back.