European football returned, and in true fashion for Liverpool Football Club, it was slightly underwhelming. The goalless draw wasn't necessarily the most exciting game of the club's season, but any firm judgements or appraisals would have to be left for a later date. It wasn't quite good enough, but next week's second leg at Anfield will provide more Jürgen Klopp with more information about the squad he inherited from Brendan Rodgers.
An exit from the FA Cup at the hands of Slaven Bilić's impressive West Ham United side has provided an opportunity for recuperation and tactical preparation that hasn't been available to Klopp since he took charge of Liverpool in October. Defeat should never be exalted, but one cannot imagine that Klopp wouldn't be thankful for the time to prepare for two important cup ties next week. Entrance to the last 16 of the Europa League -- essentially keeping the club's chances of Champions League qualification alive -- along with winning a trophy for the first time since Cardiff City were bested on penalties in the same competition Liverpool will seek to secure next Sunday.
March, however, brings a host of trying and dangerous league opponents. Mereyside's finest host a wounded Manchester City and a resurgent Chelsea. Trips to Crystal Palace and Southampton will be intriguing, if only to assess how individual performances and tactical plans fare during those matches. Liverpool's current position of eighth is exactly where the club deserves to be with twelve games remaining. Liverpool's goal difference rocketed to a barely acceptable figure by virtue of an absolutely awful performance from Aston Villa, indicating that any possible revival will be tested in the Europa League and Capital One Cup final.
Next week's games may be relatively close together, but the work undertaken between now and next Thursday will be crucial. During Liverpool's title challenge in 2013/14, Liverpool fans bristled at the notion that time between matches would help the players to be sufficiently prepared and rested to give their best. In that season, the absence of European football and the relatively early exits from domestic cup competitions ensured that Liverpool's attacking unit could further develop an understanding that was growing on the pitch. Furthermore, the players could receive tactical instruction during the week or so that existed between matches.
Leicester City are experiencing such benefits now, but there is no doubt that their excellent football is a fundamental aspect of a wondrously surprise Premier League campaign. Claudio Ranieiri and his players all deserve the adulation they're receiving. For Liverpool and Klopp, the next seven days may be the seeds for a satisfying and delightful end to the month.