Not so long ago, the thought of Liverpool finishing outside of the top six in the league was almost unthinkable. This season, it seems almost inevitable.
The past few years have been amongst some of the most tumultuous in the club's history. Since losing the Champions League final to AC Milan in 2007—the same club that they beat to win their fifth European Cup two years earlier—Anfield has seen four different managers, a vitriolic fan campaign against one set of American owners and an acrimonious and protracted takeover by another group of transatlantic proprietors. All the while, their final league positions have slipped further away from the Colin's chasing the title.
Since finishing second in 2009, the Reds have finished seventh, sixth and eighth in the Premier League. Winning the League Cup and reaching the final of the FA Cup were not enough mitigation for manager Kenny Dalglish, who was ushered out in the summer to be replaced by Brendan Rodgers.
The expectations put upon the former Swansea boss are for a long-term rebuilding of the club and a radical overhaul of its identity. Outwardly, from both board and fans, it is understood that it will take the Northern Irish coach time to change both the footballing philosophy and the recruitment policy of a club which has been in a state of flux ever since Rafael Benitez's final season.
Inwardly, however, it will still rankle all those associated with the Merseyside club—18-time champions of England—that they are not up there challenging for domestic supremacy.
Rodgers has worked hard to make his presence felt from the start of his tenure at Liverpool. He made it clear that club-record signing Andy Carroll did not figure in his plans, and the England striker was shipped out to West Ham on loan. Through a combination of intention and necessity, young talents such as Raheem Sterling, Joe Allen, Fabio Borini, Suso, Jonjo Shelvey and Andre Wisdom have all featured regularly since the summer.
Will Liverpool finish in the Premier League's top six this season?
However, Borini sustaining a broken foot so soon into his Liverpool career, combined with Caroll's shunning, leaves Luis Suarez as the only recognised striker at the club. The Uruguayan's immense talent has seen him score with admirable regularity, although the number of chances that he misses serves to expose his team's over-reliance on him up front. Losing Suarez to injury, especially before the January transfer window, hardly bears thinking about.
The implementation of Rodgers's short-passing style has also been an uneasy transition with the Reds often unable to convert their superior possession into goals and wins. No team outside of the bottom six has drawn more than Liverpool's five games so far this term, while Newcastle are the only side of the 11 above the Reds that have scored fewer than their 12 league strikes to date.
Not even the most ardent Liverpool fan can argue that Anfield isn't the fortress that it once was. Their only home league win this term was a 1-0 victory against Reading, a newly-promoted side still looking for their first win back in the top flight.
Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs will likely be the three battling for the title, Arsenal look set to grab the final of the much-coveted top four places once again while Tottenham, Everton and Newcastle will all expect to be at least in or around the European places.
Factors both internal and external look set to conspire against Liverpool's chances of finishing in the Premier League's top six this season. As long as the board, fans and players maintain faith in the project, that should be of no great drama, though it is a long road back to the upper echelons, never mind the top.