In Brendan Rodgers' first season as Liverpool manager, the club had a familiar problem against the league's better sides. While Liverpool could play good football and generally match opponents for quality, concentration and finishing remained a problem in turning defeats to draws and draws to wins. Liverpool fans could see the players work well but remained frustrated at full-time.
When Liverpool triumphed over André Villas-Boas' Tottenham Hotspur in March 2013, it seemed like a corner had been turned. Two draws against Manchester City, one point from six against Arsenal, two defeats against Manchester United, defeat to Spurs, and a draw against Everton. All these disappointments preceded the win over Spurs, but Liverpool could finally celebrate courtesy of a late Steven Gerrard penalty that proved decisive. It was typical of the season that Liverpool lost the very next game away to Southampton. Liverpool fared far better in terms of consistency following the slump at St Mary's, with four wins and four defeats in the club's last eight games in the league with a more direct style of attacking play along with five clean sheets. Infuriating goalless draws with Reading, West Ham United, and Everton featured in that improved run in yet another example of attack and defence failing to work in unison.
This season is different but the past three games in isolation have felt a lot like that first season under Brendan Rodgers. The creation of a number of chances against a big opponent and the avoidable goals conceded in failure to win the game. The performance but not the result. This state of affairs is preferable to the earlier grub served in the past few months, where satisfactory performances and good results were both absent for far too many games for Liverpool fans to continue accepting what was on the dining room table. The results still haven't been what is needed to get Liverpool back on track since that horrendous away defeat to Crystal Palace, but they've been better. Two wins, two draws, and a defeat have at least left fans with fresh images of good football in minds across the globe instead of endlessly referring to an August victory over Tottenham Hotspur.
Arsenal should not have been anywhere near a victory at Anfield with 9 minutes of added on time remaining. The home side dominated the ball, created better chances, pressed, attacked, passed, and continued looking for a way to beat Wojciech Szczęsny. Some may point out that Arsenal are a soft side that 343/3421 is suited against so proclamations of progress may be hasty. This may be true, but take a look around the Premier League this season and the sides that have troubled Liverpool since August. With the exception of Manchester City and Chelsea, the rest of the league can be rated from decent to poor with a significant portion falling into the category of "mediocre top four contenders but potentially more" for numerous bullish supporters of different clans.
Have Liverpool turned a corner? Are three games enough to claim that the frustrations and progress of season one is now upon us? It's a strange place to be. If Liverpool continue to play like this, questions surrounding the future of the manager won't be entertained as being the better side in games will generally be rewarded. Perhaps this is to be another season of transition as both players and manager attempt to find an effective formula. Rodgers' sides have fared better after December in season's one and two, and recent showings suggest that may be the case in season 3. If that is the case, irrespective of whether Liverpool secure another season in the Europe's most illustrious competition, would Brendan Rodgers season four face cancellation before going into pre-production over the summer? Or would progress in terms of performances be enough for a fanbase that has seen a side struggle for identity and a formula over the past three seasons?
With Liverpool seven points behind Southampton in fifth and nine behind West Ham in fourth, we could see a situation where Liverpool close the gap on many of the teams ahead of them over the next three matchdays. West Ham travel to Chelsea on Boxing Day before Liverpool travel to Burnley. Man United travel to Spurs, Southampton host Chelsea, and Arsenal visit Upton Park to face West Ham on 28 December. Tottenham play Chelsea, Man U are at Stoke, and Southampton face Arsenal at home on New Year's Day. Home games against Swansea City and Leicester City along with an away game against relegation battlers Burnley should not be missed opportunities with the way Liverpool are playing at the moment. The defending may be the fine print that every optimistic soul be paying more attention to with the halfway stage of the Premier League season in sight.
Perhaps this season will be an improved version of season one for the rest of the season, where concentration, defensive organisation, goalkeeping competence, and set-pieces undermine impressive performances with a superior finish than seventh in the league combined with early domestic cup exits. Maybe a round of 32 exit in the Europa League won't feature either, with the potential reward of Champions League football stirring this European giant into action, after a disappointing return to the land of milk and honey. Maybe there'll be a trophy and another entry to the list that still gives Liverpool the historical gravitas that still counts in many ways.
Out of the Champions League, adrift in the Premier League with more losses than victories, facing a struggle to attain Champions League football next season, but more hopeful with performances that match what we've come to realise about Liverpool over the course of the series: good going forward with some impressive football, but lacking defensively. It may not be the Liverpool side that challenged for the tile unexpectedly, but it's the side that looks like it's generally moving in the right direction with the usual blunders that are part of each episode.