Today had to have been difficult not only for the other 17 players in Liverpool's matchday squad, but for Brendan Rodgers as he set his team out to get a result. With so much focus on Steven Gerrard and his last-ever Anfield appearance, Rodgers was tasked with balancing the sentiment of the occasion with the very practical need for Liverpool to get a result despite the fact that there was little left to play for other than the honor of Gerrard and some semblance of momentum heading into next season.
In the end only the sentiment proved successful, as the on-pitch product looked abysmal over the final hour of the match. Crystal Palace were rarely threatened by their hosts after equalizing, and in the end it was a comfortable victory for a side that hadn't won in their last four Premier League matches, scoring only once along the way. Once again the Liverpool attack stuttered, with Raheem Sterling mostly absent and each of Jordon Ibe, Philippe Coutinho, and Adam Lallana--who scored Liverpool's only goal on the day--struggling to make an impact on a consistent basis.
Also prominent were the types of defensive errors with which Liverpool have unfortunately become associated in the past few seasons, with everyone other than Simon Mignolet left wanting at one point or another. Yannick Bolasie bullied his way through Liverpool's defense, often through the horribly exposed left-sided combination of Dejan Lovren and Alberto Moreno, and whenever Palace broke at pace, Rodgers' side were once again a circus act at the back.
"In terms of the result and the performance, it was disappointing. We started reasonably well and scored a fantastic goal with Adam, but we made poor defensive errors across the field today. That punished us at the end of the first half and in the second half. We didn't defend well enough; their attacking players caused us a problem and we didn't cope with that. Overall, the second half was a disappointing performance.
"For the first goal, the player should never get anywhere near that area of the field. They cleared a ball up the line and we didn't defend the moment well enough. I thought our decision-making defensively wasn't very good today. In fairness to him, he sticks the ball in - it was a wonderful free-kick. But we're disappointed with how he arrived there; we saw Puncheon score with a set-piece last week, he's very good in those moments. The second one was arguably offside, when he makes contact with the ball there are two players offside. I would look at it from a coaching perspective that before the ball is even played, we didn't defend well on that side of the field. The third one was clearly and disappointingly outside the box. So those two goals we were probably very unfortunate on, in terms of the second one and the penalty. But it doesn't take away that we could have been better in defensive moments in the game."
He's more than justified in pointing out that the second and third goals were anything but clear-cut; Bolasie's cross for the second left two Palace players offside, while the third, punched in by Glenn Murray after his penalty was saved by Mignolet, should never have been a spot-kick given that Lucas fouled Wilfried Zaha a good foot or so outside the penalty area.
But there's no forgiving what was one of the worst defensive performances in a long time, with Lovren the worst offender and Moreno not far behind. It's easier to forgive the latter, who's only just returned from injury and has looked far better when featuring in a wingback role or as fullback not next to Lovren. He's young and will, ideally, only improve from here, and he's shown more than enough glimpses to prove his worth as a squad member going forward.
It's hard to say the same for Lovren, who was once again an absolute disaster. Positionally irresponsible, impulsive, and far less physically capable than his athletic build suggests he might be, he once again cemented his status as far and away the worst buy of Liverpool's 2014 summer. The lone weak spot in the argument to send him into space for science is that he's rarely played with any sort of defensive cover (i.e., Lucas) from the midfield, which would no doubt have an impact on his performances as well as the side more generally.
But he's also been a massive liability across systems and defensive positions, and with Mamadou Sakho set to return from injury shortly, Martin Skrtel and Kolo Toure reportedly on the verge of signing new deals, and Sebastian Coates and Tiago Ilori returning from loan, it's easy to see Lovren as the odd man out heading into the summer and the start of next season. It won't pan out that way, as it's also easy to see at least two of the aforementioned names heading for the exit and Rodgers remaining bullish on a defender he reportedly fought to bring in, but the Croatian international has done little to prove his worth or status as anything other than fourth- or fifth-choice.
Defensive lapses and Dejan Lovren. Two issues that need to be near the top of the list of Brendan Rodgers' areas to address this summer.