To go into the start of the season without adequate, if any, cover for Lucas was a gamble.
To ignore the opportunity to correct this 2 months after Lucas was injured, and ruled out for the season, was criminal.
Jay Spearing always looked a reserve team player and an unnoticeable spell on loan at Leicester served merely to confirm his level at the club. With a few unimpressive cameos here and there it looked as if Spearing's Liverpool career would be over before it began, another to add to the list of "ours but not us" along with Stephen Warnock, Neil Mellor, etc. A loyal servant who had won Youth Cups and a Reserve League title but failed to jump the huge chasm of class between himself and players such as Javier Mascherano, and the ever improving Lucas Leiva.
When Kenny walked back into Liverpool he found a midfield that was threadbare: aside from Lucas we had Gerrard suffering from injuries, an inexperienced Shelvey, Christian Poulson (attempting to personify a Jean Paul Sartre lecture on existentialism), and Jay Spearing. After over half a season of suffering under Christian Poulsen (if, in fact, he did exist at all) Jay was given his chance against Everton at home. The enthusiasm he brought to central midfield with his non-stop hustling, bustling, pointing and shouting was a breath of fresh air in comparison to what had gone before him. While Lucas sat and covered Jay was able to be that man between the lines of midfield and forward that had been missing for seasons. Out of nowhere Jay had made his mark and impressed all around him, but it would not last.
As we went into this season Jay's previous rampaging exploits were forgotten and he was somehow given the task of covering for Lucas in defensive midfield, having never previously looked capable there. While Adam and Gerrard took up the mantle of Jay's old role the timebomb started to tick.
August 13th - First game of the season, Lucas starts and Jay is on the bench.
August 24th - First cup game of the season. Jay starts in place of Lucas in defensive midfield.
December 1st - Lucas faces the season out with ligament damage
December 5th - Spearing starts in place of the injured Lucas, he is sent off, Liverpool lose 1-0.
tick tick tick
February 1st - No arrivals at Anfield, Jay Spearing retains his position in defensive midfield.
As the transfer window shut so to did the hope that the Jay Spearing's ill fated foray into defensive midfield was about to end. Jay was now suffering from the same syndrome as those around him, he was out of position and he didn't have Lucas Leiva to bail him out of trouble.
Almost instantly Jay's performances started to give cause for concern: away at Old Trafford (brought off on 60 minutes), at home to Arsenal and Sunderland. Spearing found himself being caught out of position time after time. What got him into the Liverpool side and kept him there was his enthusiasm and ability to run between the lines off the ball, now this set of traits was in direct contrast to what he was being asked to do. Added to this was Jay's willingness to try and pick out a "killer ball", this was commended and served a great purpose when he was pushing on the season before but in a deeper role Spearing was trying too much and his passing was sloppy, combined with the tendency to kill any move's rhythm dead in it's tracks as the opposition rushed back waiting for his pass.
The game before the Cup Final, against Fulham Jay was awful, he was forever out of position and when he did receive the ball he was just as quick to give it away. That was Kenny's warning sign. After the riot act had been read Kenny persevered with the midfield that had been overrun by 35 year old Danny Murphy and co. in order to accommodate Gerrard further up the pitch.
As Henderson and Spearing ran into the same difficulties they had only 1 match previously it caused Gerrard to drop deep and leave Luis Suarez isolated up top. As Spearing let the ball go for the first he did so out of position, leaving an acre of space for Ramires to run in to and consequently for Reina to once again fail to do the basics for fear of the spectacular.
An isolated front man has almost come as standard with a Kenny Dalglish line up this season, whether he is played on his own, whether his partner is told to play 15 yards behind him, or whether the "attacking midfielder" who is supposed to help him is drafted in to patch defects elsewhere in the team. As Spearing and Henderson became more anonymous it meant a deeper and deeper sitting Gerrard until finally, around 35 minutes in, Henderson was switched to the right while Gerrard dropped and Bellamy pushed further on.
Our link-up man was now removed, we no longer had 1 isolated striker but by an unfathomable oxymoron had 2 isolated strikers.
As the second half plodded along it wasn't long before Jay's enthusiasm proved his downfall, committing himself fully for an almost unwinnable ball he allowed Chelsea the time and space to tear holes in our back line while he could only look on from the ground up.
It wasn't after 60 minutes but after 9 months that the penny dropped and Jay was quickly pulled from the holding midfield role. As he did so on came another forlorn figure. Andy Carroll.
Carroll has played well for a spell of around 3-4 months now yet in the system he is told to play in he is ineffective. He wins everything in the air yet his position on the pitch, between opposition midfield and defensive lines, means the second ball is often sacrificed or if it is won then it is held up for a glacial period of time, rendering it useless. If Andy does win the ball, and it is picked up on then by the time a decent ball is put into the area his turning circle and lack of pace means he's nowhere near it. He was the embodiment of the old John Peel mantra of "Right time, right place, wrong speed".
As Carroll came on today we saw what might be. In a cup final with nothing to lose the defence pushed up, the midfield pushed up, suddenly Andy Carroll was not caught in a no mans land between midfield and forward, suddenly every time he won the ball it quickly fell to an onrushing red shirt. Suddenly we had the Andy Carroll that we were promised, a rampaging battering ram of a beast - Duncan Ferguson with shit hair. The big man brought the game to life and scared the shit out Chelsea's back line. As he dropped to win aerial balls his position was filled by midfield runners, the link up play made me wish we started every game 2-0 down.
That however is not just the story of our season it is the story of the past 2 decades. As Manchester United turn up they do so with an arrogant swagger that comes with knowing victory is assured. In their dominance of the last 2 decades they haven't built from a steady platform and then pushed on they have gone top gear from minute one and subjugated everybody else around them. If Andy Carroll played for Manchester United he'd have twice the goals he does for us because they push on without the fear of loss from minute one.
Today was heartbreaking but there are lessons that need to be learned.
To get the best from Carroll get people around him and play the team further up.
When the only cover you have for your player of the season is requiring somebody to play out of position - you need to spend.
When the unthinkable happens and that cover has to play regularly - you need to spend.
When that cover does not meet the standard - you need to spend.
We didn't lose this match today, we lost it in January sitting idly by.