Boxing Day, 2012. Liverpool had just suffered another dreadful trip to Britannia Stadium and their 6th defeat of the season at the mid-way point. Through the first 19 games of the Brendan Rodgers era, Liverpool were bang-average in just about every measurable way. 6 wins, 7 draws, 6 losses, totaling 25 points, with a goal differential of +2. It was good enough for 10th in the table.
No one could have predicted it at that moment, but Liverpool were about to embark on the most exciting 18 months of football in a generation. We all remember the 2013/14 season, but perhaps it is equally important to remember the run in at the end of 2012/13. In the remaining 19 games after that 3-1 defeat away to Stoke, Liverpool accumulated 36 points with 10 wins, 6 draws, and only 3 defeats with an impressive +26 goal differential. As a point of comparison, 5th place Tottenham had a +20 goal differential for the season. The only teams ahead of Liverpool in goal differential were in the top 4. Liverpool were not just winning games, but often battering the competition: consecutive 3-0 wins over QPR and Sunderland, 5-0 over Norwich, and 4-0 over Wigan. It all culminated with an away clobbering of Newcastle. Even Fabio Borini bagged a goal that day.
Liverpool's second half efforts were only good enough to take the Reds to 7th in the final table, but the foundation had been laid for the Reds to take the next step in 2013/14. The team had gelled, and were firing on all cylinders and with great confidence under Rodgers.
Fast forward to October 4, 2015, and Liverpool had lost their way under Rodgers. The team had become disjointed, dispassionate, and again, languished in 10th with a -2 goal differential. The side that Jürgen Klopp created in the 7 or so months since his arrival are unrecognizable compared to the side that drew Everton in Rodgers' last game.
Like in Rodgers' first season, the Reds have only (so far) managed to climb their way up to 7th in the table, but equally, they are a side that no one wants to face. And like that late surge from the 2012/13 side, this one has started raining in goals, and battering a few teams along the way. The parallels continue: their +13 goal differential is better team outside the top 4, just like in May 2013.
It is a side transformed. Confidence has been restored, and playing in Klopp's system has become second nature to the players. Am I saying that Liverpool are going to compete for the title next year? Not at all. This season is a perfect example of what the Premier League does to hubris and expectations. However, I will say that Liverpool are once again playing like one of the best sides in England, and that Klopp has the lads moving in the right direction.
There are no guarantees, of course, and just about anything can happen in the transfer market, especially with big-money sides falling well short of their goals. A coveted Champions League spot might be more difficult than ever to achieve, but Liverpool have given themselves a head start going into next season, and I'm hopeful Klopp & Co. can continue to build upon their late-season success.