Top Four Contenders Beware, Liverpool Are Back

We've come away disappointed at "only" drawing against Arsenal and Manchester City this week. Liverpool are back competing with the big boys again and that can only be a good thing for the Premier League.
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We've come away disappointed at "only" drawing against Arsenal and Manchester City this week. Liverpool are back competing with the big boys again and that can only be a good thing for the Premier League.

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So we enter February with Liverpool still yet to record a win over a team in the top half of the table. With a defensive lapse of judgement once again to blame for our failure to capitalise on a winning position but with great positives to take from our performance.

This week had been the week to judge Liverpool's progress under Brendan Rodgers; Wednesday's performance against Arsenal had demonstrated considerable growth in comparison to the embarrassing capitulation at Anfield earlier in the season, this weekend's reversal of Liverpool's opening home fixture of the season would hopefully provide the opportunity to correct the waste of two points at home.

In many ways Liverpool's first league game at Anfield under the new Brendan Rodgers regime has set the pattern for the season; a strong response to the season's opening day loss to West Brom provided flowing football, possession, domination, creativity and self inflicted wounds. A 2-1 lead, at a point of total control was surrendered by a suicidally short back pass from Skrtel to Reina. Ironically both would be involved once more in turning victory into a draw that felt like a loss today.

The midweek draw at the Emirates served as the template for today; a 4-2-3-1 formation with Sturridge leading the line as a lone forward, holding the ball up for the midfield three to break at speed and in numbers. Suarez moved in to the centre from his left midfield position of Wednesday, the energetic and ever improving Henderson taking the vacated wing position.

Hesitancy and error in the opening minutes rapidly dissipated for Liverpool to dominate possession and creation at the home of the (fading) current champions. Obviously this dominance led to City taking the lead. Thoroughly against the balance of play the back four was exposed by a clever through ball from David Silva operating in a tight area. A James Milner cross provided Edin Dzeko, stepping clear of Daniel Agger far too easily, with a simple tap in. Within ten minutes these two would be involved in another goal.

Agger had won the ball from Dzeko in the left back position with a fairly clear foul, going through the back of the City player's legs to regain possession. Dzeko sat and appealed then decided to lie down for a while, remaining inert as the Manchester crowd vigorously complained about Liverpool's decision to retain the ball due to the simple fact that the referee had chosen not to stop the game.

A rocket with very little back lift from ex City youth team player Daniel Sturridge brought the equaliser, hammered low to Joe Hart's left. He chose not to celebrate this goal; a gesture of some dignity given that he had been roundly booed by the home fans for half an hour. Presumably it makes a change from barracking Suarez.

Liverpool's lead was extended in the second half by a typically Steven Gerrard goal; a half cleared Jose Enrique cross fell invitingly and the Liverpool captain, enjoying yet another impeccable afternoon in a highly impressive season, accepted the invitation, a dipping shot nestling nicely to Hart's right.

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This deserved lead lasted a full 6 minutes. City had been exerting heavy pressure on Jose Enrique at left back, Rodgers chose to remedy this with the introduction of Martin Skrtel for the tiring left back. An action which would prove to be unfortunately decisive.

City's positive movement brought Sergio Aguero to the edge of the Liverpool penalty area, Skrtel on his shoulder. All that was needed was to shepherd the forward toward the touch line and safety as Liverpool dropped back in number. For reasons unknown and virtually impossible to understand, Reina decided that it should be he that performed the shepherding. As Skrtel dropped off the Argentinian, Reina charged further from his area than he had any right or need. Aguero turned the rash 'keeper and lobbed home from the most ridiculous of angles; a moment of utter genius, a world class goal but provided by yet more reckless defending from Liverpool's back line.

And once again we are left ruing what should have been. Gerrard at his best once more, making the midfield tick, Carragher adding yet another controlling, commanding performance to his CV, Henderson energetic and tireless, Downing now adding balance and outlet to the midfield, the latter two finally this season becoming the payers that we paid for.

And above all a revelatory performance by Daniel Sturridge; his leading of the line a master class in the centre forward's role. He holds the ball, moves it on, initiates attacks, drifts wide to receive, drops his shoulder to surge forward, dictates play and organises the positioning of his team mates. His introduction to the side has seen an increase in the urgency of our play, a threat that we had been missing until the opening of the transfer window.

For the second time this season Liverpool had dominated a City side that doesn't appear to have a degree of the self belief that brought the title to the Etihad on the last day of 2011/2012. In Aguero they have a star who can create wonderment from nothing but it looks unlikely to be enough; they don't convince at the moment and seem to be discovering that it's harder to retain your title than it is to gain it.

And what have Liverpool shown today? What do the last two games demonstrate?Movement. A forward thrust. The capability of competing with the best that the League has to offer, if not yet the capability to defeat that best. With Coutinho due to join the squad as soon as he achieves full fitness Liverpool look as though they have options at last. All they need to do now is work on the mental stability of the defensive unit and the future begins to look that bit brighter.