With Sunday's 2-1 defeat at the hands of Manchester United a far more competitive affair after ninety minutes than after fifty-five as a lopsided opening hour slowly morphed into an increasingly competitive affair, it was a day that seemed to end with as much room for negatives as positives for Liverpool. At least for most. For manager Brendan Rodgers, only the game's final third that was of concern at his post-match press conference.
"We know, in terms of points, that we’re 24 points behind Manchester United," he began, "but we’re not 24 points behind in quality. The points difference is due to the squad. And that’s the difference for us, the depth in the squad. And once we close the gap in the squad over the coming windows I’ve got great faith that we’ll be able to challenge."
It seems a good thing Rodgers led with an admittance of the fact his side are in fact 24 points behind United in the table. Still, even those willing to largely overlook a dire opening hour, perhaps Liverpool's worst against United in recent seasons, will have been unlikely to take away from Sunday's late push the message that Liverpool's best eleven are ready to capture the club's first league title in the Premier League era and that it's really only a matter of depth stopping them.
Optimism and self-belief might come with the territory for most managers at the highest levels, yet there's a point where such belief can come to seem completely at odds with reality, leaving fans wondering if a manager can see the problems being papered over by such bullish bluster as Rodgers engaged in on Sunday. After all, even with Daniel Sturridge lacking the fitness to start the match, Rodgers was only one player short of a starting eleven that—on recent evidence—would have lined up with what he considers his best set of starters.
And it was those starters who delivered a largely dire and disinterested first hour of football, with Liverpool exceptionally lucky to make it to the fifty-five minute mark only down two goals. Rodgers' Liverpool, though, has an increasingly disconcerting habit of starting sluggishly, the manager's tactics and personnel choices often hindering the club's performances until changes at or shortly after the half lead to late pushes and talk of promising endings.
"We went 2-0 down and when you come here that’s always difficult," Rodgers added. "Other teams might have crumbled. We were disappointed with the first half when we were too tentative. There wasn’t much in the first half but any chances they had were through us giving the ball away, but from the second goal on we were much better and by the end of the ninety minutes I thought we deserved something."
Liverpool may have deserved something by the end of the match, but then United could easily have said they deserved more from the fifty-five minutes they scored their two goals in. It's much the same as how one could say that Rodgers' ability to make in-game changes that improve Liverpool's chances is commendable, of course, yet that at the same time he is equally responsible for the poor starts that often leave the club a goal or two down and scrambling late.
The club's too frequent poor starts in his time at Liverpool are a big part of why the club is today 24 points behind United in the table, though even were Rodgers to get things right from kickoff more often than he has it's difficult to imagine Liverpool's is a squad that at the top end measures up with this season's likely champions. Suggesting otherwise seems worryingly out of touch with the reality of the situation, as does Rodgers' choice to once again willfully ignore yet another sluggish start as though the club's persistent early struggles will sooner or later find permanent solution by way of a few more late goals.