Today's win over Aston Villa was Liverpool's third consecutive clean sheet away from home, a marker of progress and improvement for a squad that had been leaking goals at an alarming rate earlier in the season. Their goals came from unlikely sources in Fabio Borini and Rickie Lambert, neither of whom had found much luck to this point in the season, but otherwise it was a familiar performance from Brendan Rodgers' side, the likes of which we've seen with increasing regularity over the past month.
That's a product of the work they've done to rediscover an identity after stumbling through the fall and flatlining in a limp, lifeless loss at Crystal Palace in late November. Void of creativity and lacking any sort of character to that point, they've since changed systems and personnel, with the manager settling on a system that's seen Emre Can, Martin Skrtel, and Mamadou Sakho as firm favorites at the back, Lazar Markovic utilized in a wingback role, Lucas and Jordan Henderson partnering in central midfield, and each of Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling, Adam Lallana, and Steven Gerrard feature in a role supporting a lone frontman, be it Sterling, Fabio Borini, or, later on today, Rickie Lambert.
Talk of an identity discovered is music to the ears of supporters who'd identified the problem months ago, and for Rodgers it's a finding that should see them make a charge during the season's final months:
"We have regained our identity in how the team has played for two years. It is fair to say that in the opening four months or so of the season we were just nowhere near what we have been. We needed to find a solution to that. We changed the system for [the Manchester United game] and even though we lost the game, I saw enough in our play and the dynamic of the team to show that it could be a way for us going forward.
"There's a lot of improvement left in this team and group. But we're building towards the future here at the club. We have been progressing very well. We obviously had a bump in the road in the early part of the season. But in this period, the team is performing at a good level - defensively strong and playing some wonderful football. It's pleasing, but we have to keep improving. If we can get through to the end of January and be near it then, like we showed last year, we can put a run together that can see us in there."
It's still unlikely--not impossible, but unlikely--that Liverpool surge into a top four spot and remain there this season, and their recent form certainly suggests they could make good on Rodgers' assertions. Whether or not they do, a strong second half is still an important platform, as it will provide the platform for a stronger start to next season as they build upon the identity that's emerged over the past month. Nearly all of the critical pieces involved today will be around next season, and they'll be joined by the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana, giving Rodgers a potent attack and a system that's created more solidity in defense.
However Liverpool finish, it's exciting to consider the possibilities already for the 2015-2016 campaign, and hopefully they can continue the improvements that have, at least for now, turned this season around.