Matt Stanger watched Mesut Ozil answer his critics with a telling contribution in Arsenal's 3-0 thrashing of Aston Villa. It's now a question of playing him alongside Alexis Sanchez...
After Spurs' dreadful 0-0 draw with Partizan Belgrade, Matt Stanger was grateful to see Everton mirror their manager's enthusiasm with a bold display against Wolfsburg...
He may have waited until after Liverpool's dramatic collapse against Crystal Palace to concede defeat in the title race, but Brendan Rodgers' pre-match interview was telling. There was an air of resignation about the manager as he admitted he would be more than happy with a 1-0 victory. There was no bullish talk of trying to rein in Manchester City's goal difference; instead Rodgers wished to emphasise an outstanding season in which Liverpool have surpassed every target they set themselves last summer.
Managing expectations is an enormous part of football management and Rodgers is certain to feel the strain more than most next season, especially when fans are now claiming a moral victory and that the Reds only fell short because of their 'addiction to goals'. He has to prove this year wasn't a fluke, regardless of the other factors involved. The problem with accelerated motion is that it can leave you feeling rather dizzy and, after a season with their foot to the floor, Liverpool are now in a confused state as to what happens next.
The worry for Rodgers is that he risks becoming a victim of his own success. As he said after Liverpool's costly defeat to Chelsea, the Reds' Champions League qualification has been almost completely overlooked amid a thrilling title race. But even the manager himself was guilty of failing to put due stress on the achievement when it was secured with victory over Norwich. Liverpool had long since switched their focus to the championship and now, having seemingly blown their chance, they are left to ponder their current status.
In some ways the Reds have been killed by the nature of the battle at the top and City's two games in hand that have lingered at the back of everyone's minds for months. Had Manuel Pellegrini's side been in the lead going into the home straight, then the Reds could have avoided the enormous sense of regret at having thrown it away. To chase and narrowly miss out is glorious failure. To have one hand on the trophy and fall at the final hurdle is excruciating.
It will be difficult for Rodgers to erase the pain. Automatic qualification for the Champions League group stage will soften the blow - despite bringing in its own added pressures - but what now for a squad who have the scent of success in their nostrils? Rodgers spoke of his delight at Luis Suarez finally being settled at Anfield on Monday but, rather perversely, giving the striker a taste of the title could work against Liverpool. Will Suarez truly believe the Reds can kick on and challenge again next year or, perhaps more likely, will he again look to join Real Madrid where an annual push for trophies is guaranteed?
Rodgers has shown that he can work with relatively limited funds, with the impact of the funds he has been afforded limited further by several poor signings. But Liverpool can expect Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and even Arsenal to strengthen substantially in the summer for a renewed battle at the top of the Premier League. The Reds' challenge will become harder; a top-four place would again be a fantastic achievement after four years outside the Champions League, but is that now enough after being three games from the title in the current campaign?
Rodgers need only look to the fate of other managers who have brought success over a short period of time to query the consequences of his meteoric rise. It is a common theme that managers of promoted sides soon find themselves under pressure should they fail to maintain an upwards momentum, while Alan Pardew has never recovered from narrowly missing out on the top four with Newcastle in 2011/12. Harry Redknapp took Spurs to fourth twice in three seasons but found himself sacked after missing out on a place in the Champions League due to an anomaly. Management is a cruel business.
If you're not the winner, you're merely the first loser - a hackneyed truism that leaves Rodgers with plenty to consider over the summer. The Premier League run-in has already created a sense that Rodgers is unsure of his team's capabilities, with the manager sticking to his principles against Chelsea and Palace to the detriment of Liverpool securing two crucial results.
That is understandable given the Reds' incredible progress, but while he has encouraged his team to attack without restraint on the pitch, Rodgers must now demonstrate pragmatism when assessing his team's position in the table. It certainly won't be easy to curtail the optimism at Anfield ahead of an even tougher title race next year, yet that is exactly what Rodgers must now achieve to ensure both he and his players can cope with increased expectations. Fixing a dodgy defence is not the only bullet point on the manager's 'to do' list this summer, with Rodgers having to deal with the theoretical before he can address the practical.
Matt Stanger - he's on the Twitter.