IT seems to have been this way for several seasons now.
After an indifferent period, we build up a head of steam with a run of decent results and everyone starts getting excited again. A steady climb up the table, and we’re in touching distance of a Champions League spot. A couple of eminently winnable home games on the horizon, surely a banker six points, and we’ll be ridiculing all those gloom-mongers who were writing us off earlier in the season.
And then, apparently out of nowhere, we serve up a performance that reminds us all that we’ve still a long way to go before we can realistically harbour hopes of returning to Europe’s top table.
Prior to Saturday’s match, we had the third best record in the top flight over the previous 11 games. If nothing else, this served to remind us that apart from the noisome neighbours down the East Lancs, no other team has shown any inclination to string a few wins together and establish the sort of consistent form that merits a top-four slot. When West Brom and Everton are vying for fourth place, something’s going wrong somewhere. After all, we’d only won two games on the trot and even Brendan Rodgers was speculating that we should be aiming to usurp at least one of the Mancunian munchkins. This just weeks after he said it would be a magnificent achievement to come higher than eighth.
But once again, we bowed under the most modest of expectations and produced a display that revealed our underlying deficiencies like a Bangkok lady boy. Over-reliant on Suarez up front; lacking ideas around the box; vulnerable to pace on the break. Everybody knows it, and sides come to Anfield to sit deep, isolate Suarez, force Sterling down blind alleys and that’s us done for. Once we start knocking the ball across the face of the penalty box, unless Suarez pulls out of the box and turns to run at defenders, we’re pretty much sunk.
Brendan Rodgers has hinted that some players are in need of a rest, though Joe Allen has been playing like he’s been spending too much time on our new psychologist’s couch. Let’s hope he replaces those who are flagging with the likes of Assaidi, Suso and Sahin, who at least look as if they might create something out of the ordinary even if they can’t do it for a full 90 minutes.
Otherwise we’re going to have to rely on what blows in through the transfer window next month. It appears that Tom Ince is likely to return, a special offer at 35% off, but still costing us around £4m just a matter of months after selling him for £500,000. No doubt we’ll find a way to lob a couple of million in the direction of his agent also. Daniel Sturridge is also widely mooted to join our ranks, and while a welcome addition as someone who actually scores the odd goal, would still represent something of a gamble given his lack of recent activity and a suspect injury record. And of course there’s still Borini to come back...
So I suppose we should just be content for now if the overall trend is a steady improvement, and not get over-excited or too despondent when a few results suggest otherwise. Given our experience in recent years, we really should know better.