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Poor Form and False Dawns Haunt Liverpool

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Liverpool's strong start to the new year gave fans hope the club might finally be on the right track after an uneven start to life under Brendan Rodgers, but their form so far in 2013 is actually worse than it was from August to December.

Oleg Nikishin

Following Liverpool's generally strong play against the weakest portion of their schedule through December and into January, most had hoped the two steps forward, two steps back approach to improvement that had been seen for most of the first half of the season had come to its end. They hoped a corner had been turned under Brendan Rodgers; that the signs of progress fans had clung to over months of inconsistent results had finally coalesced into quantifiable improvement.

Then came a pair of draws against Arsenal and Manchester City, results that felt like two points lost more than a point gained. Most fans, though, could still just about convince themselves things remained on the right track. Arsenal and City, after all, were tough opponents, and Liverpool had looked good enough to take all three points at times in both matches. Then came a pair of massively deflating losses to West Brom in the league and Zenit in Europe.

Throw in a bad loss against lower league competition that knocked Liverpool out of the FA Cup and that fourth place—now twelve points off with only twelve league games remaining—finally seemed unquestionably beyond reach, and suddenly Liverpool's 2013 looks just about the same as August through December did. And so rather than solid, tangible signs of improvement it's back to inconsistent results, missed chances, and bouts of shaky defending.

In fact, going by Liverpool's record in all competitions, the first matches of 2013 have actually seen a drop in form. From August through December, Liverpool played 32 games in all competitions—the league, Europa League, and League Cup. In those competitions, Liverpool won 14 times for a win rate of 44%, while if one were to count wins and draws in cup competitions to the same points standard as league matches their record would have been worth 1.59 points per game.

Since January began, Liverpool have now played nine games. They've only won three times—a 33% win rate. Again counting wins in their cup matches as worth three points and draws worth one, their record since the new year would be worth only 1.2 points per game. It's hardly the kind of return fans were holding out hope for during an inconsistent autumn, and it would take two wins and a draw in the next three games just to roughly match the win and points per game rates from the first half of the season.

There may still be cause for hope if one looks hard enough; reasons to believe that despite that results haven't actually improved the club is still on the right track. The results that would back that up, though, simply don't exist. The cold evidence of the wins and losses and draws doesn't suggest this Liverpool side are any closer to taking a meaningful step back towards the top tier of English football than they were six months ago.

The improvement many have insisted has been coming all along, through the struggles and the inconsistency, has yet to actually—meaningfully and measurably—arrive. Some will continue to insist that signs of it are still there, that they have faith Rodgers is the right man despite set-backs and uneven form. Others will accept that after the turmoil of recent seasons, there is little profit to be had in agitating for change and that the best course remaining is to simply hold on and hope.

Short of screaming for the club to dispatch yet another manager and move on to their fifth in four years, there aren't many options. It's either continued blind faith in a young and unproven manager or resigned acceptance that hopes he comes good only because it's hard to imagine much of a future for the club if he doesn't. That's not where anybody wanted to be six months into Rodgers' Liverpool career.