THE scoreline may have been the same, the manner in which Manchester City were left off the hook depressingly similar. But the evidence at Eastlands yesterday suggests matters are changing for the better at Liverpool.
Back in August, Brendan Rodgers’ men trudged ruefully back to the dressing room having gifted the Premier League champions an unlikely escape route during a game in which they had been dominated.
Hindsight would suggest that early-season encounter said more about City than Liverpool, given the subsequent travails of the Anfield outfit.
Slowly but surely, however, Rodgers is beginning to mould a team capable of competing with the Premier League’s elite.
Beating them is the next significant step – Liverpool have still yet to win against a team in the top half of the table this season – but the positives have far outweighed the negatives in reacting to the humiliating FA Cup defeat at Oldham Athletic last weekend.
Four days after battling to an entertaining 2-2 draw at Arsenal, Liverpool posted their best Premier League performance of the fledgling Rodgers era to claim a similar point and, in the process, edge the title back into the hands of Manchester United.
It should, and could, have been more.
If, as Rodgers contested earlier in the week, Steven Gerrard really had been dropped from heaven then, on current form, Pepe Reina would most likely have dropped him.
Reina was at fault for City’s 79th-minute equaliser, which came only shortly after Gerrard’s remarkable 25-yard strike had set Liverpool on course for deserved victory.
The goalkeeper wasn’t alone, though, as Daniel Agger was caught out for Edin Dzeko’s opener before Daniel Sturridge marked his return to Eastlands – exactly six years since making his professional debut at the stadium – with a controversial equaliser.
That the striker was making only the 100th Premier League appearance of his career underlines why he remains more potential than finished article.
But the signs are Sturridge is now beginning to deliver, his pace and trickery adding an extra layer to Liverpool’s attack while his partnership with Luis Suarez continues to flourish.
A fourth goal in six appearances came when the England man thumping home from 20 yards with Liverpool ignoring City claims to put the ball out with Dzeko prone on the turf.
Rodgers inferred his players were too nice after the Oldham debacle. So he will have been pleased with the ruthless manner in which his team capitalised on referee Anthony Taylor waving play on as Dzeko sought to make the most of Agger’s strong challenge.
Liverpool, buoyed by the confidence of this week’s road trips, will now have European qualification in their sights. They stand six points adrift of fifth place with seven of their 13 remaining games at home and none of the away fixtures holding much fear.