Same old Liverpool: No goals and one point.
That’ll be the main takeaway for the Reds as they came away from Swansea City’s Liberty Stadium on Sunday with a 0-0 draw.
And just like that, a third of the Premier League season has passed by.
A couple of months after Brendan Rodgers returned to Swansea and exited the Capital One Cup at his former stomping ground, this time was, in his words, a marked improvement for Liverpool since Kenny Dalglish’s last league game in charge.
The lack of excitement on the pitch was matched by the number of talking points for Liverpool after the game.
Here are 10 of them.
Featuring on the Liberty Stadium pitch on Sunday were two Liverpool players nearing the end of their careers.
Left-winger Stewart Downing started as left-back as left-back Jose Enrique started as left-winger. They finally made formal a switch that was already apparent from Dalglish’s tenure.
Scratch that: Enrique played both left-back and left-winger last season as Downing contributed nothing in front of him.
To his credit, Downing has reinvented himself as a left-back (see: forced to find a new position because he’s not good enough at his own) and has put in several solid displays in Europe in his newfound role.
Sunday showed, however, that he is ultimately out of depth there as well. He found himself continually exposed positionally, and Liverpool’s attacks ended with him losing possession.
Fast forward to 77 minutes, and Joe Cole came on to do what he’s done in his Liverpool career except against Young Boys in the Europa League last week: make his presence unfelt.
Unfortunately, though, it is more than a year too late; their time at Anfield is up.
While Cole was toiling on the pitch (or not) and Jonjo Shelvey was sent on for Jordan Henderson to provide a spark and some energy (and a presence) in the midfield, Oussama Assaidi and Nuri Sahin were respectively sat in the stands and on the bench.
Following a steady start to life in England by Sahin, he has found himself increasingly out of Brendan Rodgers’ first-team picture in recent weeks, and he is not even the first midfielder off his bench.
But the true mystery lies with Assaidi, who has found plenty of action and has impressed fans in Europe. But he has found minutes in the Premier League just a bit too hard to come by.
Given the number of options not in the Liverpool starting XI that can actually beat a man (none), Assaidi, with his dribbling, pace and direct style of play, will be puzzled as to why his manager so often trusts him from the start in Europe but not at all at home.
And on Sunday, the implication and result was that Liverpool were left to finish off a boring 0-0 draw as their two substitutes with ability on the ball were left behind.
Against Swansea on Sunday, Steven Gerrard and Joe Allen both had uncharacteristically subdued and anonymous displays on the pitch.
Uncharacteristic given their ability and reputation for asserting themselves in football matches, but the reality is that this kind of performance is becoming more and more commonplace for Liverpool’s starting midfielders.
What happened? Wasn’t it only a few weeks ago that Liverpool’s midfield options were heralded and that the middle of the park was the area the Reds least needed strengthening?
Unfortunately, Brendan Rodgers is not unlocking or unleashing the potential that his midfielders have, and a large part of this is down to midfield enforcer Lucas’ extended absence from the first team.
Joe Allen, an assured ball-player who can pick out a deft pass and dictate the flow of the game, has been deployed as a substitute destroyer, a role in which he initially seemed to feel comfortable but has found very difficult of late.
No one needs reminding of Steven Gerrard’s abilities and attributes, and they are left to deteriorate as the captain has had to drop deep and support the base of the midfield.
Presumably, the return of Lucas in December will free Allen back to his normal central midfield pivot role and Gerrard to his marauding central attacking midfield position.
And indeed, given the high praise that Lucas has received since he sustained his injury, one could be forgiven that he is the world’s premier defensive midfielder with professionalism, a strong mentality and a complete game at his foot.
But he’s not, and he must be eased back into the first team.
Which means Allen and Gerrard will be continuing in their current positions until Lucas gradually returns to full match fitness and is comfortable enough with his physical state to hopefully continue his pre-injury run of good form.
Coaches, players and fans alike must not put too much pressure on Lucas as the one solution to the Reds’ current ails.
He’s not. Their problems are far greater than that.
But one thing we all know is that Luis Suarez is not one of these problems.
In fact, given his performances in recent weeks, it seems that his reputation of causing problems and controversies has been consigned to the past.
Which should earn the player himself some praise, but Rodgers should as well.
As in the past few games, it was a pure delight to see Suarez on Sunday not going to ground on every challenge, to use his strength to continue his runs, and to shoot by instinct rather than choose to dribble some more.
While he didn’t score against Gerhard Tremmel in the Swansea goal, he caused his opposite number problems and was one of the few players who threatened to break the deadline.
Liverpool’s problems last season came as a result of Suarez playing more to the number on the back of his shirt than to his starting position.
Now that he’s finally operating like a striker, he’s the Premier League’s current top goal scorer, and Liverpool can finally afford to think less about signing another out-and-out striker than signing other supporting attacking players—be they wingers, attacking midfielders, second strikers or out-and-out strikers.
In the absence of genuine attacking options, left-back Jose Enrique has been used in an unorthodox left-forward position, some 30 or 40 yards ahead of his normal playing zone.
In possibly one of the hyperboles of the season, Rodgers compared Enrique’s move forward to a similar shift by Tottenham Hotspurs’ Gareth Bale.
Unfortunately, Enrique is far from Bale’s level, and Rodgers knows this as well.
It was painfully obvious on Sunday, when Enrique proved that, unlike Bale and other genuine wingers, he is faster off the ball than with it, which, in the case of tracking back and helping Downing defend, was impressive and important.
But his lack of ability on the ball, technique and pace with it frequently got him stuck in a cul-de-sac up front, and the attack more often than not slowed down when the ball arrived at his feet.
His close-range effort, but for a correct offside decision, would’ve notched him a second consecutive Premier League goal after he opened his Liverpool account against Wigan.
It showed that he has a great positional sense going forward and attacking, but this renaissance should only live long enough until a replacement is found.
Conversely, Jose Enrique’s colleague on the opposite flank, Glen Johnson, further outlined his importance to the Liverpool attack with yet another barnstorming performance from right-back.
With Andre Wisdom missing out through injury, Johnson was moved back to his specialist position from left-back, where he had been filling in for most of the season.
And he immediately showed what Liverpool had been missing.
His runs along the right flank into the heart of the Swansea area fashioned many a goal-scoring opportunity, and his off-the-ball runs in support of Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez were impressive as they were important to the team dynamic.
So integral was Johnson’s contributions that the vast majority of Liverpool’s attacks migrated from his erstwhile left side to his right flank at the Liberty Stadium.
Now that Suarez has taken up a central striker role and that Gerrard has been moved deep, it is Glen Johnson, Liverpool’s right-back, who determines where Liverpool attack through.
In front of Glen Johnson was Raheem Sterling, who has been taking up a right-sided role with increasing regularity in recent weeks.
Having first made his impact on the senior team from a left-sided forward role cutting in on his favored right foot, Sterling has had his influence somewhat culled on the right flank, where he is more prone to stay wide, try to beat his man and put in a cross.
For a 17-year-old who burst onto the scene at the start of the season, perhaps this change is slightly underwhelming, given that he hogged the majority of the limelight coming Liverpool’s way, and that his meteoric rise resulted in a fast track to an England cap.
But Brendan Rodgers, who has shown himself to be an astute man manager and an enthusiastic mentor to his young prospects, might have wanted Sterling to go through this period on the right flank to develop another side to his game.
The very heartening and encouraging result from Sunday was that Sterling, while not seeing as much success in an attacking sense, still stuck to his defensive responsibilities and was frequently seen dropping back, especially when Johnson had bombed forward in attack.
Outside of individual player performances, the team performance offered a continued glimpse into Rodgers’ vision for Liverpool: pass and move, pass and move, pass and move.
The comfort in possession that the Reds enjoyed at Swansea, where Rodgers so successfully implemented his system last year, was a major plus point, as was the higher shots tally.
Positionally, the defence and midfield closed in at the right time to limit the frequency that Swansea penetrated or went between the lines, and the defensive duties observed by Sterling and Enrique contributed massively to the team.
Following a calamitous early-season period in which Liverpool continually leaked goals, they have seemingly sorted their defence out in recent weeks, and while the attack still isn’t firing on all cylinders, they have at least become hard to beat.
And with Pepe Reina turning in a solid performance between the Liverpool posts as well, and Lucas just a few weeks away from a full first-team return, this is a Liverpool team that is finally approaching full strength.
But a full-strength team consisting of the current squad Brendan Rodgers has at his disposal is still not going to rack up the points to take Liverpool to where they want to be.
That is the brutal reality that club owner John Henry will have to face.
Liverpool may be moving on the right track, but while Kenny Dalglish’s splurging on players last summer meant that his funds were cut in the January transfer window to sign reinforcements in light of Lucas’ injury and a shortage of goals up front, Brendan Rodgers should surely not be faced with yet another tight January.
Youth is the way forward, ultimately, but as a certain Alan Hansen once said, you can’t win anything with kids.
Also check out: Suarez’s 10 Greatest Liverpool Moments