Liverpool's early season schedule has been more of a grassy hill than a steep mountain, as their only "big time" opponent was Manchester United. However, they won that match against the Red Devils and have for the most part taken care of business against everyone else. Their only loss came against Southampton, and despite the immense sting that result had, Southampton have shown the intention to finish in the top half of the table. Additionally, the Southampton loss had more to do with a poor starting formation than anything else, as the decision to play four center backs only served to turn our normally incisive attack into a plastic spoon. If you've ever tried to scoop ice cream with a plastic spoon, then you know that the plan is doomed to fail from the onset.
Anyways, Liverpool have been better than in previous years in "trap games"; they beat Stoke and Villa, two physical sides known to give the Reds fits, and easily dispatched a Sunderland side hungry to get their first win under a new manager. These "trap game" victories, rather than the win over United, are the ones that give me hope that this season could be different.
However it is difficult to ignore that a relatively calm early schedule will transition into a nightmarish December. The Reds play Tottenham, City, and Chelsea away from Anfield in the space of 14 days, with a home fixture against Cardiff squeezed into the middle. Four matches in 14 days is crazy enough, but with three of those games coming at the fortresses of title contending clubs, the final stretch of 2013 could decimate Liverpool hopes of finishing in the top four. But while those games are intimidating, Liverpool do seem capable of getting at least six points from that four game stretch of doom, and if they do that then they'll likely be fine.
Injuries have played a large factor thus far, and Liverpool's success without key assets indicates that they have the grit needed to survive the grueling back end of the season. Since the team played so well without Allen, Cissokho, Coutinho, and Johnson, it figures that when these players return, everything will turn from gold to platinum. However, while the return of these players will undoubtedly have a positive impact, it is simplistic to think that their returns will make the team unstoppable in the long run. As sports fans know, a medical room is a revolving door rather than a one way exit. That is to say that when the currently injured players come back, others will inevitably get hurt. Nonetheless, Liverpool's success when facing with adversity shows that they are a tough bunch, a side that can grind out results even when they are far from full strength.
The return of Luis Suarez, who was sidelined for biting another human being, cannot be underestimated. Liverpool are just better with him in the lineup, and it has shown in the last two victories. His link up play with Sturridge is otherworldly right now, and their chemistry will only develop further in time. Having Suarez in the lineup is huge, and it is imperative that he keeps himself on the pitch if Liverpool are to do anything this season. The thought of Coutinho coming in to solidify a "Big Three" is tantalizing, and it's something that fans haven't seen much of due to various injuries and the Suarez suspension.
Liverpool are on a path to a satisfying season, even though early whispers of title aspirations are likely unfounded. The team is defying everything that has defined them over the past four years, and they have finally found unity and purpose within the Brendan Rodgers passing system. Liverpool have always had the talent to beat the big boys, and they are starting to show consistency against the tricky teams that populate the middle of the Premier League table. With the impending insertion of Coutinho alongside Sturridge and Suarez, and Johnson at right back, Liverpool will have an opportunity to burst out of the international break in full force. What comes beyond that, when the pitches freeze over and later when spring blooms, is hard to predict. But what I can say is that this is the most optimistic I've been for a few years, and 16 points from 7 games is a brilliant start.
Hopefully this article was food for thought, or maybe even thought for food since I mentioned ice cream. Feel free to chime in with your own assessment of how the club looks going forward.