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Liverpool End the Year as It Began

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In the final Premier League game of 2014, Liverpool ended the year as they began with an impressive victory.

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

This was the year that was. Convincing home victories against Hull City and Swansea City were the first and last results of a year full of emotion and unexpected results. For all the attacking football displayed between January and May, it was fitting that Liverpool ended the year as an effective lite version of that side with some familiar and new faces producing impressive performances in a cathartic victory. It's been a tumultuous year, but the focus must be on what is to come tomorrow and beyond.

Victory over Hull moved Liverpool into the top four in 2014, while victory against Swansea ensured that Liverpool enter 2015 chasing the top four with the possibility of being just three points behind fourth, if Southampton hold Arsenal at St Mary's while Liverpool win against Leicester City. Maybe Liverpool can close the gap against Manchester United as Louis van Gaal's side travels to Stoke, and Chelsea could do Liverpool a favour by using the recent Liverpool template to severely punish Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. There is no better fixture to have, when rivals face difficult fixtures or each other, than a home contest against a side that sits at the bottom of the league.

The win against Hull followed two successive defeats in big games against Chelsea and Manchester with performances that pointed to better things. Liverpool looked the equal of two teams tipped for the title but lost each game by a single goal. Two games against Manchester United and Arsenal illustrated that Liverpool could have what it takes to challenge for the top four. The new set-up under Rodgers could certainly compete with these teams and create numerous chances, even if defending combined with loose finishing would serve to undermine Brendan Rodgers' side.

With the increased number of teams vying for top four at this stage of the season combined with a growing mediocrity in predicted pre-season contenders, there'll be a number of matchdays where quite a few will face off against each other or collide with either Manchester City or Chelsea. Can this Liverpool side capitalise on the instances when rival sides inevitably drop points in the months ahead? In contrast to depressing weeks of successive defeats or Champions League exits and sound beatings, the festive schedule has produced renewed if reserved optimism in Liverpool's prospects this season.

Liverpool have struggled to match last season's strong performance over the first 19 games and have experienced deterioration of eight points. Regression without the talents of Luis Suárez  and Daniel Sturridge was somewhat inevitable, and a goal difference of plus one is some way behind plus 21. However, Liverpool placed third in the calendar year league table of the 17 sides involved in 2014 to underline a year of overall progress that can still be consolidated in the remaining months of the 2014/15 season. It will be hard to match 15 wins, 3 draws, and 1 defeat in the last 19 games, so the next half of the league campaign will compare unfavourably with a run that nearly ended Liverpool's title drought. Even so, there is much to look forward to in 2015.

Renewal could be seen in the presence of players in the Liverpool team. Lucas Leiva has been restored as resident defensive midfielder after spending most of 2014 in the shadow of Steven Gerrard. Mamadou Sakho, Adam Lallana, Emre Can, and Lazar Marković are also currently involved in the first team as much as they should be. Liverpool's young Spanish fullbacks experienced another full 90 minutes where they were part of a confident team performance. This has also been the year of the young fullback, and the three young ones on Liverpool's books should provide hunger in 2015.

What Rodgers will do over the next month, with an interesting set of fixtures and a number of domestic cup ties to feature in January, will provide further evidence of how he uses his squad with a congested schedule. A trip to lower league opposition in the FA Cup, two legs of a Capital One Cup semi-final against a fearsome Chelsea side, and a possible FA Cup Fourth Round clash later in the month to be sandwiched between the games against José Mourinho's league leaders. Combine that with potentially troublesome trips to Sunderland and Aston Villa in succession with a home tie against a resurgent West Ham United for a January programme that's not as easy as some have claimed.

Whatever happens, 2015 is set to start with a month of seven, possibly eight fixtures, where Brendan Rodgers along with his charges both old and new can send a message for the rest of the season. Daniel Sturridge should return next month to give Liverpool a boost, and the Transfer Committee should have a firm understanding of the profile of player required in the January transfer window. Next year could begin with a month of renewal for a squad struggling to match the achievements of last season in terms of displays and results. Liverpool have taken enough backward steps late in 2014, it's time to move the other way with a fresh year upon us.