A season that nosedived from hope and belief into dejection and disappointment should be seen as a positive stepping stone, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said on Sunday after settling for second best in the Premier League title race.
Having led the standings heading into the home straight, a campaign that promised to lift the weighty millstone of a 24-year top flight title drought came to a deflating end with a 2-1 victory over Newcastle United that counted for nothing.
Manchester City were drenched in blue and white ticker tape after a 2-0 win over West Ham United ensured they finished top by two points, leaving Liverpool to rue costly results against Chelsea and Crystal Palace near the end of a dramatic season.
Having finished seventh last year and begun the current campaign with the target of a top-four finish and a spot in next season’s Champions League, the resolutely positive Rodgers was not lamenting what might have been.
“It’s been brilliant. We’ve been on an incredible journey this year,” he told Sky Sports on the Anfield turf.
“To finish with 12 wins and a draw (from the last 14 league games) is an incredible achievement… It was unfortunate not to win the title but we’ve shown great hope for the future…
“We’ve helped the supporters dream here and we’re a team on the up and we have momentum.”
Although it can be difficult to carry momentum from one season into the next, the Liverpool manager was able to reflect on several positives as he puts together plans for next term.
One is the form of effervescent England winger Raheem Sterling, who was stuck on the fringes for the opening months of the campaign before cementing his place in a free-scoring attack that rifled home 101 goals over the 38 league games.
This was the first time Liverpool had broken the 100-goal mark since 1896, with strikers Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge the most prolific pairing in Europe’s major leagues with 52 goals between them.
Rodgers will also have been buoyed by the driving performances of Jordan Henderson, once derided as a costly mistake but now seen as a pillar on which future Liverpool midfields can be built.
It was perhaps no coincidence that their season imploded when Henderson was suspended after a reckless challenge at the end of their 3-2 win over Manchester City that ruled him out of two crucial and calamitous games.
A 2-0 home defeat by Chelsea and a 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace, after leading 3-0, will be seen as the banana skins that tripped up Liverpool’s title charge.
Yet back-to-back away defeats by Manchester City and Chelsea over the hectic Christmas schedule, after taking the lead in both games, were equally pivotal.
There was also defender Kolo Toure’s inexplicable gift to Victor Anichebe that handed West Bromwich Albion a point when all three should have been safely tucked away.
When Rodgers completes his final analysis of the season, he might focus on the ease with which Liverpool could cede control in crucial periods of games.
While the match against Palace will live long in the memory, Norwich City might well have completed a similar comeback only two weeks before.
Rodgers was adamant Liverpool’s demise in the title race was not caused by an inability to deal with the psychological burden of a title run-in.
“I don’t think we failed to cope with the pressure. We won 12 and drew one (of the last 14 games) and we just had an unfortunate result against Chelsea. This is a group that could cope with the pressure but we’ll learn from this,” he said.
The real cause stemmed from failings at the back.
The switch of Steven Gerrard to a defensive midfielder coincided with a remarkable run of victories, but the shunting of the canny Lucas out of his customary role in front of the back four left Liverpool increasingly fragile at the back.
The goals against tally mounted up as they conceded more than 50 goals in a 38-game top-flight season for the first time since 1914-15.
Those defensive frailties will certainly need to be rectified before next season if Rodgers’s plans for another title challenge are to have any chance of succeeding.