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A Window Of Opportunity

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Despite the spectacularly underwhelming lack of activity in the transfer window, hard work and good timing has seen a general atmosphere of optimism building around Anfield and environs.

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"Right, that's three. Who's next then? Come on! Who wants some?"
"Right, that's three. Who's next then? Come on! Who wants some?"
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Last night, for the first time in many years, the needy wheedling tones of Sky Sports' Jim White were absent from the living rooms of many Liverpool fans as the bombast and forced pageantry of that channel's Deadline Day coverage built to it's limp conclusion. Instead of wincing at the tragi-comic spectacle of the screeching Scot taking a phone call from one of his sources, your scribbler was thoroughly immersed in the altogether more rewarding virtual pursuit of stealing Humvees and wreaking havoc in Liberty City. I didn't care about the transfer window, you see. There was nothing in it for us. No Babelcopter, no absurd splurge on a walking ponytail in pink shorts, not even the shock departure of a blond Spaniard to lament. It was utterly pointless and we knew it would be. We'd been told repeatedly by the manager.

There are those amongst us who can happily acknowledge the fine work done by Brendan Rodgers and his squad in putting together a run of title-challenging form whilst still retaining the right to have a moan about the fact that it seems almost criminally negligent of the club not to have invested in a goalkeeper and another striker. Timing, of course, is everything. As the days during which commercial activity were possible dwindled, Rodgers' Redmen have been looking increasingly formidable. Summer signings like Lazar Markovic and Emre Can have started to thrive, established stars like Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho have been in the form of their careers and, whisper it, one of the finest strikers anywhere is finally back in the red shirt.

Timing.

Like so many of you, this Irishman was an utterly fascinated spectator as Sunday's Superbowl half-time entertainment took place. A non-devotee of the pop genre as a rule, I genuinely have no opinion as to the relative merits of Katy Perry but it did strike me, as I was utterly mesmerized by the incongruous sight of some gyrating sharks, that misdirection is a very powerful thing. So batshit insane was the vista of several prancing marine predators that very few will have been listening critically to Ms Perry's live warbling.

Similarly, the news, strategically leaked last night, that Philippe Coutinho is about to pen a new five year deal at Liverpool, could be viewed as a cynical ploy by those running the show at the club to deflect the attention of the masses and make them forget the gnawing anxiety that has beset them. No, there will be no new goalkeeper or striker BUT look over there! A shiny new contract for our star performer. See it gleam! Bask in it's warmth! Allay your anxieties! All is well!

Irrespective of the sequence of events, it would be only the most jaundiced curmudgeon who refused to be enthused by the news that Liverpool's outlandishly gifted number ten has agreed a long term deal. Coutinho has been majestic in recent weeks and his impact on any given match is growing as the season wears on. There are genuinely very few footballers like the Brazilian, whose instinctual, sublime creativity was on display in the recent win over West Ham United. The intuitive, lightning fast assist for Raheem Sterling's goal was even more extraordinarily striking than those disco sharks. This is a man, like Sterling, who literally has no ceiling on his potential, and that, dear reader, is a reason to be optimistic.

By contrast, Adam Lallana is a player caught in the murky hinterland just outside of general fan approval. His initial price tag has been an albatross around his patchily bearded neck and injury has cruelly curtailed his opportunities to impress the Anfield faithful. Unlike Coutinho, he has not had the impact his undoubted talent makes him capable of. A patently adroit footballer with a silken first touch, Lallana has too often seemed ponderous in possession when surrounded by the one-touch merchants that people a Rodgers team. This is not to say that the former Southampton man is incapable of playing in that fashion, but rather an acknowledgement that his limited chances in the team have probably made him over-eager to try and do it all when in possession.

However, following a couple of assured performances, in which the likable England man showed some admirable positional flexibility, Lallana is feeling positive and upbeat about the team's chances to redeem a season that seemed lost. He's identified a buoyancy around the club and insists that it's a feeling the whole squad have picked up on, a shared belief with the fans in some kind of progress.

"I felt that and it rubs off on the players," he offered. "We all kind of felt it. We feel like we've got our own identity now, a lot of the new lads have settled in. We've found a system that suits us well, and confidence is a huge factor. We knew it was going to take a bit of time, but we feel we've got that now. We just want to keep looking to improve and keep winning games.

"During the beginning of the season we were struggling," Lallana continued. "But we have put the hard work in on the training ground and it's going well and paying off. But not for one minute will me or any of the lads be happy with that - we want to keep improving and keep doing better. You can see it's going to go down to the wire. We did start off slowly, but our league form is brilliant. With Sturridge coming back we have got more options. We just need to focus on a game at a time and the next game is Bolton away. They caused us a few problems at home and made it difficult for us, so we know we're going to have to go there and be patient. But we're fully confident that we can get the win."

The transfer window closed last night without the tangible boost of a shiny new player or two to augment the team's challenge on three fronts. However, due to the impressive efforts of the manager and his charges, the form and results since before the turn of the year have been so encouraging that it needed only the cherry topping of a Daniel Sturridge return to bring back the kind of giddy excitement that caused bus routes to be lined last campaign. Whilst that level of celebratory high jinks is not yet warranted, we can safely say that the remaining chunk of the season represents a genuine window of opportunity. Like the bizarre cavorting of Katy Perry's sharks, it's all about the timing.