With the enforced World Cup-themed winter break finally over, back into competitive club football we plunged at the Etihad, and for supporters, it was largely a case of picking up where they left off.
Dependent upon your perspective, the end of Liverpool’s League Cup defence was a drift toward the depths of despair, while at the other end of the spectrum it has been spun by many as a potential positive.
It means we have marked the return of club football by walking the line between pain and ambivalence and ended up embracing a little of both concepts.
No matter what the competition, losing to Man City can’t come without a degree of sting.
It is the Chinese burn of defeats, and it rankles whenever it occurs, as it insults our entitled sense of superiority of footballing class, when it comes to our dealings with the English game’s lottery winners.
It was the same sensation whenever we were beaten by the Abramovic-funded Chelsea, and it will be a feeling replicated when Newcastle start to pick off wins against us. As a collective, we are a set of footballing snobs, and we bring much of our angst on ourselves.
Saves and misses
In basic terms, it isn’t the end of the world to be out of the League Cup.
In a season where so much football is to be crowbarred into the next five months, and there is a very precarious prospect as to whether we will obtain Champions League qualification for next season or not, the extra four fixtures that it would have taken us to retain the trophy are entirely dispensable in the great scheme of all things 2022/23.
Priorities will be everything if Liverpool are to achieve their targets come the end of May.
While last season was a wild – and ultimately unrequited – mission to chase down a projected quadruple, it is all about simplifying our needs this time around. If rival teams pile their plates high with extra games, then all good.
On one side, it would have been magnificent to have held on to the League Cup, to have won the competition for the tenth time, and at the Etihad, the result could have easily fallen in our favour.
We like to deal in the definitive and absolutes, and we often rate ourselves to be all or nothing, but the dividing lines between success and failure are the finest at times. There are plenty of shades of grey though.
For every heroic block and save made by Caoimhin Kelleher, Darwin Nunez wasted a trio of golden opportunities.
The goals that Liverpool conceded to were largely avoidable; a more full-bodied approach to clearing the ball from Joe Gomez would have made all the difference to preventing the opening goal, while greater focus on the resumption after the interval would have been helpful in averting the second. As for the third, we were undone by a well-worked, yet simple set piece.
Conversely, our hosts weren’t exactly a beacon of stability throughout, twice letting us back on to level terms. As a game, it was a bit of a mad one, and Jurgen Klopp set his stall out to win, rather than to endure.
It’s the type of thing that happens when you’ve been starved of competitive football for six weeks and the first outing is against your nemesis.
A convivial bonhomie was on display on the touchline, with the combined party line being one of how much both managers enjoyed the occasion. While we were all handed an open letter in the days leading up to the game to behave ourselves and to love thy noisy neighbour, we were, of course, serenaded with poverty ballads regardless.
No amount of twee lip service will stop gobshites being gobshites.
In just over a fortnight’s time, we’ll begin the defence of the FA Cup, and it is likely to go as well as our defence of the League Cup.
History points to Liverpool labouring in the defence of the competition, it is something that we have never managed to retain on any of the other seven occasions we have attempted to do so, the closest being when we reached the semi-finals in 1990.
Our focus is better spent on correcting our Premier League situation, something that we were beginning to do prior to the World Cup break, with back-to-back victories over Tottenham and Southampton.
The year 2022 will draw to a welcome end with a trip to Villa Park to face the Steven Gerrardless Aston Villa, and the visit of Brendan Rodgers and his Leicester City, two opponents who also enjoyed a bit of an upturn in prospects during the early exchanges of November, before we were all compelled to temporarily mothball the season.
Either side of the visit of Wolves for the FA Cup third round will be Premier League road trips to Brentford and Brighton, before Chelsea come to Anfield. This makes for a subtly treacherous landscape that Liverpool will have to navigate in order to claw their way into the top four.
With two months until the Champions League kicks in once again, and the task to overcome a Real Madrid side that has become our kryptonite, even when it does, we are now in a position to employ some much-needed tunnel vision in the Premier League, and we will need to make it count.