Don't be too quick. Hold your tongue. Excessive haste is for the foolish and the young.
The face behind the profile behind the column that retains this persona reacted and acted with an absurd certainty of events with what appeared to be manufactured regret. Balotelli arrived and articles exploded in anticipation of a new striking hero. Six months later, Daniel Sturridge spelt bad news for Mario Balotelli. Now neither seem to be exactly true. Neither saviour or failure, Liverpool would benefit from the productive Balotelli seen over the past week. A late winner against Tottenham Hotspur and a key role in the winning goal away to Crystal Palace were fine contributions by the £16 million striker. A functioning and integrated Super Mario combined with arguably the Premier League's deadliest striker could push Liverpool to success in the coming months with a teaspoonful of Dejan Lovren.
Merely two months ago Liverpool lost heavily against a fierce rival in a game that was closer than the scoreline indicated, but defensive mistakes, poor finishing, and strange goalkeeping handed the home side victory. Ten points behind Manchester United. Brendan Rodgers was not worthy of the job. Summer signings were inadequate. The response? Striking. The 3421 formation that featured in depressing defeat became the foundation of a rapid rise along with the integration of various players in vital defensive positions. In the sixteen games that followed a most irksome trip to Manchester, no team has managed to beat Liverpool over the course of ninety minutes. Chelsea required extra time to best the Premier League's in-form side but should have been knocked out after 180 minutes over two legs. Liverpool are playing well, getting results, and a collection of summer signings from the past two summers have been central to a red resurgence.
Five games from 2015 strongly suggest that Brendan Rodgers and his technicians are ready for a battle. The two legs against Chelsea were extremely close, the dour away derby with Everton was hardly out of Liverpool's control, an in-form Tottenham was defeated in a "six-pointer" in the race for the top four, and a trip to a sprightly Crystal Palace showcased a comeback along with an unusual calm in victory. Liverpool have followed a familiar path in the Rodgers era. The first 19 league games, whether full of misery or mirth, compare unfavourably with the second half of the season. There may be the odd defeat, the disappointing draw, and the surprise lethargic offering in a cup game.
Six losses in the first 19 games were reduced to three in the second half of 2012/13. Five became one in 2013/14 where Liverpool picked up 36 points before the 19 game mark, only six less than the current total after 25 games this season. Comparing the first six games of the final 19 game stretch, an interesting pattern emerges. Liverpool picked up eleven points (W3, D2, L1) in season one and fourteen points (W4, D2) in season two. Season three has continued the same pattern with fourteen points (W4, D2). What should Liverpool fans expect next?
In Brendan Rodgers' first season, Liverpool lost game 26 at home to West Bromwich Albion and the Valentine's Day away tie to Zenit St Petersburg in the Europa League last 32. Oldham Athletic had already dumped Liverpool out of the FA Cup in the previous month, but the progress was real. There would be a few frustrating draws, a grinding defeat at Southampton, and an away goals exit to Zenit. That did not detract from many impressive wins and fine showings in a strong end to the season.
The second season featured that lengthy win streak that began in game 25 without any European football to contend with. Liverpool did win game 26 against Fulham and continued to do so until game 36 with the title so close. The victims of game 25, Arsenal, managed to knock Liverpool out of the FA Cup after a dramatic win at Craven Cottage. It is difficult to use last season for comparative purposes, as it will be virtually impossible to match an eleven-game winning run from early February to late April.
Liverpool were in two competitions following game 25 in the past two seasons, but three fronts are a concern in season three. Not one but two cup games accompany game 26 in the Premier League. The power of Selhurst Park was finally sidestepped with an assured display, Besiktas at Anfield shouldn't result in a defeat, and St Mary's has been a difficult venue over the past two seasons. The Southampton game will be Liverpool's toughest in the league since that day at Old Trafford but should be no more taxing than a trip to Stamford Bridge in a decisive domestic semi-final clash.
This improvement may not have been in fans' minds after conceding three goals away to Crystal Palace and Manchester United respectively, but this is the work of Brendan Rodgers. He finds a way to make things better. Defeats become distant enemies. Victories become increasingly familiar. Performances have reached the point that games become far more comfortable viewing experiences than they should be. That's not to ignore how bad things were, because Rodgers was definitely going through a bad patch in his decision-making and understanding of his group of players.
Liverpool may not win the FA Cup for the club and the captain. The Europa League could provide a path that does not lead to the land of milk and honey. The Premier League defeats suffered in September and November might prove to too troublesome in the race for the top four. Defeat could be waiting on Sunday against Southampton and could be repeated a week later when Man City visit Anfield, but Brendan Rodgers can be a wily tactical devil. His players have the capability to make the odds, the statistical projections, and our fears all fall down.
Whatever happens, it will be absorbing to see the manager and his players battle in three competitions for however long that may be.
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- The Week in Comments: "Is that how old he is in midfielder years?"
- Deconstructing Daniel Sturridge's Equalizer vs. Crystal Palace
- Rumour Mongering: Striker Set for Premier League Rather than Move Abroad