Tuesday night was a strange night for many Liverpool fans.
The 4-1 defeat of Chelsea was awe-inspiring, and at times Liverpool were almost teasing Chelsea, as John Terry was nutmegged three times in the first half alone.
But as the goals rained in, there were mixed feelings. With delight came frustration—where has this Liverpool team been for the last 12 months?
On paper, it's much the same as the team that cantered to success in the latter stages of last season, playing swashbuckling, attacking football as Liverpool rode a tide of high spirits in the wake of the American takeover by FSG and the interim appointment of Kenny Dalglish. The likes of Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Carragher, Suarez, Carroll and Maxi all played a major part in the last weeks of that tremendous run-in.
Maxi is a curious case. Bought for a bargain £1.5m by Rafael Benitez, he has been a model pro and has added goals and intelligence to the midfield on a scale not replicated by many other bigger fee purchases. He was brilliant in the run-in last season with a glut of goals, even hat-tricks.
But this season he has cut a solitary figure, seemingly banished from the first team by Dalglish in favour of his own big fee purchases of Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson. He has contributed six goals in 27 games in all competitions, and most of those games he was a sub. By the same token, Downing has two goals in 36 games, and Henderson has two goals in 48 games. So, Maxi has 50 percent more goals in 60 percent less games than those two. Staggering.
Another thing worth noting Tuesday night was the exclusion of Steven Gerrard. His role in the Liverpool team is becoming more and more of a conundrum, and one that is fast reaching a point where you may have to surmise that he has no place in the strongest Liverpool starting XI.
If he plays right midfield, then you can make a very strong case for him starting. If he doesn't, then you can't be as confident. Jonjo Shelvey plays with verve and energy, a youthful eagerness to get involved in everything. When Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll closed men down, it was Shelvey pushing up to further squeeze the options available to the defenders under pressure, and very often they just gave it away in panic.
But the same questions remain:
1. Why is Carroll all of a sudden playing so well? Where was this confidence before? Have Liverpool mismanaged him to date? Should they still sell?
2. Where does Henderson fit into the team when Lucas is back?
3. How can Liverpool replace a player like Maxi without spending massive money? And would such a player want to come to an ailing Liverpool team?
4. Another howler from Pepe Reina—what is his future?
5. Where was this formation and attitude when the two teams faced each other in the FA Cup final?
6. Is this just a team that can perform when under no pressure?
For many, the result was a blessing, especially for those adamant that Dalglish is the man to take Liverpool forward. But for others it just muddies the waters a little more in the run-up to this summer. Should the whole season be viewed as a good one, as Dalglish puts it? Or should the truth of the matter come to bear, a season of abject gutlessness and tactically inept resolve, with record losses, punctuated by very occasional successes, notably in the cup competitions?
It remains to be seen what will happen this summer. Will FSG give Dalglish more time and money to restore this club? Or will they decide that it was not good enough and that further investment in Dalglish could waste an astronomical amount of money?
This summer will likely see Maxi Rodriguez, Fabio Aurelio and Dirk Kuyt all move on. Income in the region of £3m would represent value considering the status of their contracts. Raheem Sterling looks to be taking one of those positions up for the next season, so that still means that two new attacking players need to be found, but with how much money?
Tuesday night asked as many questions as it answered.