Out of the six teams Liverpool have played, four of them are teams that Liverpool fans would generally respect. Against those four sides, Liverpool have won two, drawn one, and lost one. Beating Tottenham Hotspur away and Southampton at home could belong to last season's run of impressive results. Those are the kind of victories that merit respect and praise even if the win over Ronald Koeman's side was far from comfortable. Losing to Manchester City away is acceptable in that Liverpool started brightly and competed until a defensive mistake late in the first half saw Liverpool chasing the game from there. Still, Liverpool looked like a good side that would be okay in its quest to secure safe passage to the land of milk and honey once again. Even the draw with Everton, fresh in the minds of Liverpool fans, wasn't the result of some defensive error or shaky defending. Phil Jagielka outdid himself and Liverpool had no time to react to an astounding stoppage time goal.
Finishing in the top four or higher will require a consistent haul of points from midtable and relegation candidates. After the international break, Liverpool's four Premier League fixtures were Aston Villa (home), West Ham United (away), Everton (home), and West Bromwich Albion (home). It isn't heartening for Liverpool to go into the final game with one point from nine and minus three in terms of goal difference. Brendan Rodgers' side places 18 out of 20 in the post international break Premier League form table. The game on Sunday between West Brom and Burnley will not affect Liverpool's standing as Burnley have 2/6 and West Brom have 3/6 already. Stoke City and Newcastle play on Monday with 1/6 each but a loss for Newcastle would see Liverpool rise to 17/20 while a heavy defeat for Stoke would also result in Liverpool jumping a place. This is not the sort of discussion one expects to have concerning Liverpool's affairs in the league even at this early stage of the season.
Aston Villa failed to beat Liverpool at Anfield last season even when they went two goals ahead. Paul Lambert has repeatedly shown that he knows how to set up his side against Brendan Rodgers but Liverpool had enough to save a point. It should not be forgotten that trips to West Ham have been difficult encounters as Sam Allardyce's side have been stubborn opponents. The 3-2 away victory in December 2012 was full of incidents and April's 2-1 penalty-laden victory at Upton Park had many talking points for fans as well as pundits to sift through. These were tough games but Liverpool had enough attacking qualities to find a victory against Big Sam's lads.
There has been much debate about the defensive partnerships that Rodgers employs with some decent options for the 41-year-old to call upon but he must get the attacking blend right. This isn't about giving players time to settle and rotating players according to Liverpool's larger schedule this season but understanding the different styles in the Liverpool squad. Daniel Sturridge is clearly the number one striker as Jamie Carragher pointed out a few days before Mario Balotelli signed and the Italian international may have a chant already, but he's not full of dangerous movement that enhances the qualities of players like Steven Gerrard, Philippe Coutinho, and Adam Lallana. The only other member of the frontline that moves into space is Fabio Borini. Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli are excellent at linking the play but with the players Liverpool possess, both would benefit from a partner in the shape of Sturridge or Borini.
Even further, the movement of Lazar Marković looks promising and he remains a player of considerable potential. It's a new league and country, and the Serbian international may need time to acclimatise with the physicality of football in England. He doesn't lack confidence in his abilities and nor should he. He seems suited to the type of football Rodgers wants and like Sterling, he can carry the ball and dart into space. Again, at 20 and new to the league, he needs time. Adam Lallana has settled in quickly and looks like he can link midfield and attack higher up the pitch, which is something that Liverpool needed last season in difficult games.
What will Brendan Rodgers do when Daniel Sturridge returns? Play Sturridge and Balotelli together for most games as he did against Tottenham? If Rodgers wants to go with the midfield diamond to support Balotelli and Sturridge, would it not be wise to play that formation now ahead of Sturridge's return so that the team has greater fluidity? Balotelli needs support and likes to drop deeper to link the play, he is not going to burst forward into space so players like Coutinho will not have a target for through balls. Liverpool's attacking system may be served by an alternative but it seems that Mignolet, Moreno, Skrtel, Lovren, Manquillo, Gerrard, and Henderson will form the defensive and midfield base for the team.
In time, greater defensive understanding should grow but Liverpool will never be completely convincing in that area with some systemic issues in defence and midfield. Brendan Rodgers possesses the attackers to open up opposition defences with the right blend of players. The matches Liverpool have dropped points in since the international break have disappeared into a mist of disappointment where rivals' triumphs and failures matter little if Liverpool continue to stutter. Liverpool have a home game against West Brom before a strenuous Sunday for six rivals before the next international break. 3 points between Liverpool and fourth after six games is no cause for crisis and feverish worry but more games will come. Further improvement from Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool must accompany them.