Who knew one weekend could wreak such havoc? From being outright favourites, Liverpool now requires favours from Manchester City’s last three opponents and even then they are not totally guaranteed to finish above Chelsea. Clearly, some damage has been done.
Liverpool really such obvious favourites, though? Since just two results have changed things so dramatically it’s become more than apparent they weren’t, but with national media coverage beforehand supporters could be forgiven for thinking so, especially as they needed so little encouragement.
Before the Chelsea debacle there was an awful lot of attention on Brendan Rodgers, naturally because he was coming up against his former mentor and boss Jose Mourinho.
There were signs of a shift in status, said some. A few even went so far as to intimate that the pupil was becoming the master.
This was a dangerous and slightly mystifying new tack, one that Liverpool supporters really should try to keep at arm’s length.
An extraordinary season has been analysed over and over again but its underlying magic and mystery remain.
True, the Reds have been fortunate enough to have the services of not one but two strikers at the top of their game for much of the season, scoring more than half the club’s league goals in the process, but there’s been a lot more to it than that.
However, one glance at Mourinho’s track record over the past dozen or so years should really have nipped such premature talk in the bud.
It’s an astonishing run of success. His personality, the pragmatism and the wealth/superiority of his various employers often sees those achievements run down to such an extent he can still manufacture an underdog mentality from nowhere, similar to the buildup for Chelsea’s visit to Anfield.
The odds for a Liverpool win Sunday were ridiculously low in the circumstances, and the club itself got more than a little carried away.
Fans lined the streets beforehand (a previously used ploy, admittedly) and the announcement of the teams felt more like a WWE wrestling bout than a game of football.
It felt like a procession the prelude to a coronation almost and for those of us whose skin crawls at premature celebration this just had Ultimate Disappointment stamped all over it in big black letters.
What was equally unnerving was the fact that most people knew how Chelsea would approach it yet there seemed little or no change in Liverpool’s own approach to meet the coming challenge.
For the second game in a row Lucas Leiva was just plonked into Jordan Henderson’s position despite his completely different playing style.
The full-backs had most of the free space and time on the ball; Chelsea judging correctly that little would be done with it.
But the opening goal was the clincher. A lot of fans put it down to misfortune but how many good sides concede when their central midfielder slips?
How many teams have absolutely nobody behind the man currently with the ball at his feet unless it’s a defender? Conceding that goal was just one of numerous slips and failings that have been camouflaged over the months by quality attacking play.
The preferred blueprint was ironically one in which Liverpool were the victims of at the hands of one of their greatest servants.
With Champions League football imminent, it’s worth remembering the night in the Mestalla in 2002 when Rafa Benitez first really came to the Reds’ attention.
Liverpool was taken apart in the first half by a breathtaking performance from Valencia, with Pablo Aimar central to everything.
In the second half they just shut it down and the visitors were treated like schoolboys, getting nowhere near the Valencia goal.
The emphasis on what Chelsea’s second team cost also was disconcerting, as if value ever had much to do with the football transfer market. Rodgers also rather pompously declared that “anyone could just sit on the edge of the box and defend.”
Some have been recovered, but some have proved costly, such as Gerrard’s and Kolo Toure’s at West Bromwich Albion to name but two.
True, such a calamity befell Chelsea’s Cesar Azpilicueta recently but a goals against tally of 26 suggests it doesn’t happen to Chelsea often.
This again brings up the question of whether it is actually so difficult to coach players into a well-drilled recovery response when attacks break down or if a rare rear-guard action is desperately required.
This was an accident waiting to happen, exacerbated of course by a remarkable run and a title race that makes the spotlight on Liverpool’s weaknesses burn that much brighter as a result.
This has been an incredible ride and it still has another two weeks to go, but if lessons aren’t learned then ultimately all that will result is heartache.
Some more tricks need to be adopted and if the only reaction to Mourinho’s triumph which is exactly what it was is going to be surly contempt and arrogant dismissal, this ride will be the only one the Reds get in the years to come.
Liverpool doesn’t have to become Chelsea but on occasion they need to be a bit more like them when it matters most.