There's a growing sense that Liverpool are, very shortly, going to be found out one way or the other. Narrow early season victories inspired, but the failure to progress from there--even with two further wins in league--has created plenty of concern that performances need to improve drastically if a challenge for a European spot is going to be something for which the club can realistically aim. We'll find out soon enough, with trips to Arsenal and Everton on tap in November, and visits to the three other sides in the top five they've yet to face.
Their form against "lesser" sides will go a long ways in determining where they finish the season as well, and those watching the 2-2 draw at St. James' Park would be forgiven for having flashbacks to matches Liverpool "should" have won at any point over the past few seasons. Up a man, sloppy goals conceded (one on a set piece), busy around the opposition penalty area but an inability to finish or create a winning chance--this was familiar stuff.
Not so for Brendan Rodgers, who's insistent that, while the club have clear areas of development that need to be addressed, Liverpool have made significant progress during his tenure, and are well set-up to push forward:
"I still think there's a hell of a lot of improvement for us to make, but in the main we're a tight unit, and we just need to keep moving forward. We're here to compete. Liverpool is one of the great institutions of the game. We're never happy when we don't win, but you have to have a sense of perspective as well.
"There will come a time when we start looking at when we can challenge, but we can't get carried away. The club finished eighth the year before I came in, and we finished seventh last year. We have stabilised the mentality, there's a strong culture at the club now, and I think the supporters can see the direction we're going in."
This is a conversation we've had with increasing regularity over the past few weeks--Liverpool are headed in some sort of direction, but right now it's hard to tell just how closely that trajectory aligns with the principles Rodgers identified as hallmarks of his managerial philosophy. That may well be the long-term aim, but right now the direction seems to be more about survival and sticking around near the top of the table than anything else.
And maybe that's going to have to be enough until the squad takes the shape Rodgers wants. The first transfer window was an unmitigated disaster, but the two that have followed saw Liverpool round the squad out in key areas, both with players heading straight into the starting eleven and those mean to provide depth and longer-term impact. If that trend continues this coming January, there's no question that Liverpool's squad will have improved under Brendan Rodgers.