LONDON (AP) — What next for Liverpool?
Judging by the funereal look on Steven Gerrard's face and the sobs of Luis Suarez, Liverpool all but handed the Premier League trophy to Manchester City when it feverishly blew a three-goal lead at Crystal Palace on Monday.
Perhaps the only thing worse than squandering an opportunity is knowing that it might not come around again anytime soon. With Manchester United in post-Alex Ferguson distress, first-year managers at City and Chelsea, and Arsenal lacking edge, the stars seemed aligned this season — exceptionally so? — for Liverpool to win its first championship of the Premier League era.
Those four heavyweights will be stronger next season.
United will have spent heavily on new players this summer and will have a new manager, expected to be attack-minded Louis van Gaal, a proven winner.
City's billionaire owners already have the finest collection of players in British soccer and the appetite to keep improving. Even with powers at the Union of European Football Associations pressuring City to curb spending, its squad has depth of talent to compete on multiple fronts, in the Premier League and Europe.
Under Manuel Pellegrini, its cerebral manager with a degree in civil engineering, City is more studious; the soap operas of his predecessor, Roberto Mancini, have gone. City will be a formidable defending champion if, as Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers now expects, it wins the title Sunday on the last day of a season filled with twists.
Jose Mourinho should have a squad more to his liking in the second season of his second stint at Chelsea. At Arsenal, after this first season of adaptation, greater things will be expected of star player Mesut Ozil.
Rodgers also has plans, with newspapers saying he could add half a dozen players. His defense most obviously needs shoring up, having bled too many goals — 49, with one match to play — for Liverpool to be champion. No winner since the league's founding in 1992 — Manchester United and City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Blackburn Rovers — let in that many. Liverpool flattered to deceive, scoring so many goals that the holes beneath its waterline didn't seem deadly until it sank against Chelsea, losing 2-0, and then rolled out the welcome mat in front of goal for Palace.
If he strikes again in the last game against Newcastle, Suarez will overtake Alan Shearer and Cristiano Ronaldo's shared record of 31 goals in a 38-game league season. With one more goal, Liverpool will also have scored 100 in a league season for only the second time in its long and illustrious history and the first time in 118 years. Another four goals would equal Chelsea's record of 103, set under Carlo Ancelotti in 2009-10. But all that seems purely anecdotal after Liverpool's naivety in letting Palace claw back three in 10 minutes, the 3-3 draw tossing away victory needed to keep pressure on City.