Without the full context, a fifth place finish for this Liverpool side doesn’t seem so disappointing. Not when the sides finishing ahead of them in the table all spent more to get where they are. Following up a near title win by dropping out of the top four, though, does sting. As does the manner in which the Reds failed to make it back to the Champions League through largely self-inflicted wounds.
Then there’s Manchester United, whose own struggles had for a time seemed to have left the final spot up for grabs. While Louis van Gaal was sorting out the mess left behind by David Moyes, though, Brendan Rodgers was creating something of a mess of his own by trying to set up a side minus Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge as though it was a side whose line was still being led by Luis Suarez or Daniel Sturridge.
As the season nears its end, the narrative has shifted to a need to find new sources of quality and leadership for a side about to lose their long-serving captain. A side that, even with Steven Gerrard again an ever-present in the lineup when fit this past season, already too often appeared short of quality and leadership throughout what will be remembered as an exceptionally uneven campaign.
"That’s what we have to find, the answers to that," said Rodgers following Sunday’s latest loss, this time to mid-table Crystal Palace, who dispatched the Reds with relative ease at Anfield in Gerrard’s final match. "You have to find solutions. It’s an incredible amount of experience, game management, and quality going out of the team, but it is something I am sure we can find."
Rodgers went on to outline where he feels the club most need to bring in quality, and it’s no surprise his focus is on striker, even if rumours of a done deal for Danny Ings and serious interest in Christian Benteke has left fans scratching their heads. If Luis Suarez is to finally, belatedly be properly replaced and Daniel Sturridge’s injuries have made him unreliable, the names mostly linked so far don’t seem proper answers.
"We have players with good character, and that we add in some quality with that is important," said Rodgers, with the manager stopping just short of laying the entirety of the blame for Liverpool’s season at the feet of Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert, and Fabio Borini. "We need that threat at the top end of the field because too many have disappeared for us. You only need to look at the number of goals."
Liverpool’s strikers may have disappointed this year, but Rodgers’ use of them has been a clear contributing factor in that disappointment. The manager often failed to reward the times one would turn in a solid handful of performances, following up a strong night or winning goal with a benching, and Rodgers appeared to make no attempts to tweak Liverpool’s approach to suit what qualities the strikers that were available did have.
Just like for Liverpool’s season and finishing fifth, it’s easy to look at the totals without the full context and say the strikers let the club down. And they did. But they were never put in a position to succeed, either, and it was some combination of Rodgers and the transfer committee who brought in all three of Balotelli, Lambert, and Borini, a trio the club spent £30M on and for whom they will be lucky to recoup half that this summer.
"The quality of the football has not been there this season," admitted the Liverpool manager. "That’s our job in the summer. To replace and find the new players who can come in and make a difference."