Date: 8th December 2012 at 7:30pm
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POINTS taken will decide whether it will be a happy New Year or a bleak mid-winter for the Reds.

Between now and 2nd January Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers have an opportunity. In the next 4 weeks Liverpool will contest 7 games which will enable a proper assessment of this team as a Premier League entity.

While the season is young, the fires of hope can remain alight even when they are small flames surrounded by dampened expectations and wet performances.

However, reality can sometimes douse those hopes and usually the New Year welcomes a cold snap and the cold truth about the team.

Liverpool have a host of fixtures that will be seen as winnable, though often those sorts of expectations can actually make the games much more hazardous than they seem. Udinese were the first test that Rodgers faced in this period and the outcome concluded that LFC will still be playing European football at the beginning of 2013.

That Liverpool should already have already qualified prior to this will have been a disappointment for Brendan’s boys. The tie should have been about resting players and giving more opportunities to youngsters to impress. Instead, it started an arduous winter schedule and acted as a reminder that Liverpool have squandered their advantage all too regularly this season. But for a chilling second half against Udinese and a late let off for Young Boys, both at Anfield, Rodgers could have enjoyed last night’s match and reflected on what’s needed for the matches ahead.

At least the tricky Italian tie was negotiated successfully, and now Liverpool can concentrate on the following opponents:

9/12/12: West Ham (Away)

15/12/12: Aston Villa (Home)

22/12/12: Fulham (Home)

26/12/12: Stoke (Away)

30/12/12: QPR (Away)

2/01/13: Sunderland (Home)

There is a temptation to be relieved at this schedule. Indeed it’s quite tempting to say that 18 points out of 18 is not impossible. But that would be the wrong way to look at these fixtures. Liverpool are a work in progress and hard work is precisely what is needed over the coming weeks.

It is worth remembering that Liverpool have only beaten Norwich, Reading, Wigan and Southampton; hardly anything worth crowing about especially as only one of those matches was away from home. So, the Christmas fixtures are the ones which will allow us to evaluate ourselves against our targets and see whether mid-table insignificance beckons or another tilt at European qualification is in store. It will also dictate whether we will enter the transfer window full of optimism or in desperation looking for a quick fix.

A lot was made of the 8-game unbeaten run Liverpool went on prior to the Spurs defeat and this certainly offered some cause for optimism. Yet Norwich are currently on a 7 match unbeaten run and no-one has them as nailed on European certainties. The league is very tight this year and there is not much difference in the quality of the teams. Given how competitive the Premier League is this season, a small return of points before 2013 will place Liverpool in a perilous position and the wins already banked will seem ever more precious.

But that is the negatives; the positives will come with points. There is no reason that Liverpool can’t get some much needed wins from these 6 fixtures and it could be a vital lift to send us into the New Year. 12 points plundered from these 18 would make for a good haul, anything more would be gold and with the number of points being dropped by teams from 3rd downwards, positions are there to be seized.

Rodgers can capitalise on these fixtures by staying in Europe, winning games and sending Liverpool up the table. If Liverpool can finish the year strongly there will be a feel-good factor around Anfield heading into January, and that can help carry the team while Rodgers seeks out reinforcements to commence his assault on the second half of the season.

Confidence is a huge advantage in football and if Liverpool can gain some momentum in the ensuing weeks we could be in for a much more exciting season than we’ve seen so far.

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