THE final whistle at Boundary Park on Sunday brought an end to Liverpool FC’s most realistic route to silverware this season.
But, according to Dietmar Hamann, there remains a significant reward on offer for many of Brendan Rodgers’s squad between now and the end of the campaign: their Anfield futures.
“This is a crucial three months for many of the Liverpool players,” says the former Liverpool midfielder.
“You can’t keep saying ‘yes he’s coming good’ when a player has one or two good games and then disappears for three or four weeks. The period until May will help the manager find out which players he wants and which he doesn’t.
“Liverpool have had to balance the books and get rid of a lot of players on big wages. Some were loaned out and some were sold, so it’s been a transitional period for the club. Allen, Borini and now Sturridge have come in, and Coutinho is on his way too, but Liverpool have still been disappointing.
“Changes still have to be made. After all, finishing seventh or eighth is not the target for a club Liverpool’s size. They need to be doing a lot better than that.”
The jury remains out on Joe Allen and Fabio Borini but, as Rodgers himself has intimated several times recently, his school of youngsters are also under similar scrutiny.
As a player who lifted the Champions League, the UEFA Cup, two League Cups and two FA Cups during a seven-year stay at the club, Hamann has seen Liverpool subsequently slip out of the European elite to become merely one of England’s also-rans. He believes there was no excuse for the Oldham debacle.
“The FA Cup was one of only two trophies Liverpool could still win, and to lose against a third division side that had won only one of their previous nine games is simply not good enough,” he says.
“Regardless of what team Rodgers picked, Liverpool should have been expected to win with the team they had out.
“And that would have set up a home tie with Everton and suddenly everybody would be talking about maybe a run to the final again.”
It was only when Steven Gerrard emerged from the bench shortly before the hour at Oldham that Liverpool suddenly spluttered into life, the skipper denied only by the width of the crossbar in the final minute from earning the visitors a scarcely-deserved replay.
Rodgers later lamented the continued reliance on Gerrard to help drag the Anfield outfit out of the mire.
And while Hamann still marvels at the manner in which his former midfield colleague can grab a game by the scruff of the neck, he admits Liverpool’s players need to start learning from Gerrard rather than merely leaning on him.
“Steven is still influential but it’s very hard for one player to win games on his own,” says the 39-year-old, who is now forging a reputation as a pundit.