THE defeats at Manchester City and Chelsea will have taught Liverpool two contrasting lessons. At the same time, the following win against Hull City might have been an example of the lessons implemented.
While The Etihad Stadium defeat was a battle between two evenly matched sides, the Stamford Bridge performance was more blunt and listless, bordering on the wayward.
It could have been a flash in the pan and had the result against Man City yielded even a point, it wouldn’t have seemed as bad.
The midfield and attack at Stamford Bridge looked a tad half-hearted, possibly signs of a bit of fatigue setting in from the back-to-back games this Christmas period is infamous for.
Luis Suarez kept nibbling away at the defence; metaphorically that is. But neither Raheem Sterling nor Philippe Coutinho were able to make very sharp incisions in to the Chelsea backline.
Liverpool gave the ball away too many times and it resulted in the run for the equaliser, and while the initial run itself was thwarted, Eden Hazard happened to follow up with a lovely curling finish. The second goal, which ended up being the winner, was lackadaisical defending and goalkeeping.
Samuel Eto’o just managed to stick a toe at the cross and that was perhaps his only telling contribution to the game but ended up making a difference worth two points.
Simon Mignolet should have done better with the attempted stop though, and it was the second time he had only partially palmed a shot on goal which went in anyway.
The winner by Manchester City was scored in similar fashion and a stronger hand from the Belgian might have made for a different outcome.
Something has to be said about Liverpool’s second half performances though.
They tried attacking against City in the second half but just couldn’t find a way through. That was more a case of good defending on City’s part than a failure for Liverpool.
Against Chelsea however, they just couldn’t apply any pressure on the defence. That wasn’t the case against the Tigers though.
Both halves were equally fought by Brendan Rodgers’ men and the attacking instinct looked very much alive in the second 45 minutes as it did in the first.
Against Chelsea, Suarez was outnumbered in the middle by the defence and the midfield wasn’t sharp enough to manufacture passes around them.
Once again, that was rectified at Anfield as they kept pushing an extra yard or two and tried to get past defenders repeatedly.
Raheem Sterling showed further evidence of continued improvement by looking to do something with the ball every time he had it. It has to be said though that he needs to learn better when to pass and when to keep dribbling.
He got in to good positions on a number of occasions, having already used his dribbling prowess to good effect, but held on to the ball anyway instead of looking up for a cross in to the box.
It’s a simple concept. The longer you take to deliver the ball in to the box, the more time the defence has to cover the attackers in the area. Take those extra few seconds away from them.
In a game like football where everything moves about for the whole 90 minutes, a few seconds tend to make a huge difference. But it’s been said before and for good reason, he is still young and very much on a learning curve.
The positive thing however, from this win over Hull was the midfield performance. Against Chelsea, they were outmuscled for the ball for most of the game.
On this occasion however, they continued to close down on whoever had the ball and used their body whenever they could to challenge for the ball.
The Liverpool defence meanwhile will also have welcomed the first clean sheet since the rout over Tottenham. While it looks good on paper, there were still some shaky moments for one man at the back in particular – Aly Cissokho.
He looks particularly vulnerable dealing with the ball on the bounce and there were a few instances when he had a Hull player closing in but instead of clearing it, he ended up lobbing it just a few yards away – often in to an opposition player’s way.
It’s a clumsy way of dealing with possession in your area when you can’t hit a ball on the half-volley with any conviction.
The more you lob it away, even if it does get to a team-mate then, it’s still very awkward to bring down and move along the ground. As a result, it ends up in a contest of head tennis instead of being meaningfully moved on the turf.
It’s a minor technical issue but it does make a difference between getting the attack going again, and the possession remaining stilted in the middle of the park.
That’s one area where Martin Skrtel excels because he neither lobs it awkwardly just a few yards ahead, nor does he always blindly put his foot through it with all the strength he has.
He tends to either play it down the flanks or towards the second third of the pitch. It gives either the wingers or the forwards a chance to hold the ball down and get some movement going in a goal-bound direction.
Moving away from that, there is another thing that needs to be said with a certain emphasis.
Luis Suarez seems to be attracting all the challenges and physical hits from opponents and whether you call it part of the game or just a result of his overdramatised falls at other times, referees do seem to be allowing players to clatter in to him more often than others.
There were the two penalty claims against Chelsea on Sunday where any other player on the receiving end of the challenges from John Terry and Samuel Eto’o would have been awarded them.
But with Suarez being the one challenged, there seems to be an air of dismissal irrespective of whether he really was brought down or exaggerating.
Only the very blatant challenges get the whistles blown while anything short of that seems to be acknowledged as fair game, because it’s Luis Suarez and he’s admitted to diving in the past.
It’s the perfect time to bring out the old cliché of two wrongs not making a right. Punish him with a booking and whatever else the situation demands if he’s dived.
But when he’s been fouled, call it that and make a decision on that instance alone. Don’t validate bad tackles and blatant fouls just because it’s Suarez on the receiving end.
Refereeing standards in our country claim to be fair and impartial, so adopting a mob mentality against the Uruguayan goes very much against that.
He himself got booked on the first instance he made a tackle for the ball yet Hull defenders were allowed many more against him before a booking was made. It seems to be a double standard; perhaps subconscious but a tad hypocritical nonetheless.
Everything said and done, these were three important points after a couple of disappointing defeats.
This Sunday will be an FA Cup tie against Oldham Athletic and with all due respect, it will be a chance for Rodgers to rest a few players in favour of some of the more irregulars.
Week after that, it’ll be Stoke away, followed by Aston Villa at home, before the Merseyside Derby.
They’re all winnable games provided Liverpool continue applying the same energy and commitment on the pitch for every one of those matches.