Liverpool's trip to Old Trafford on Sunday was supposed to be the fixture where the Reds put behind them their inconsistent form throughout the early stages of the campaign and showed they were beginning to make progress on their long ascent back up to the higher echelons of the Premier League.
Instead Rodgers men came out looking like an eighth placed side very much overpowered by their opponents, top of the table Manchester United, with the Anfield side putting in a poor display in the first-half as even the most senior of players, such as Luis Suarez and captain Steven Gerrard, showed their hosts far too much respect.
A well-taken goal from Robin Van Persie, marginally ahead of his opponent Suarez in the top scorer rankings prior to the game, gave United the lead, whilst a needless free-kick given away by Martin Skrtel on the edge of the area ten minutes after the restart gave Nemanja Vidic the opportunity to head past Pepe Reina to double the advantage.
Liverpool did manage to find some form in the second-period, putting on a spirited fight back spurred on by a goal from Daniel Sturridge on the hour mark, but the two goal deficit was too much for the visitors to come back from, with the contrasting performances in the first and second periods epitomizing the inconsistency which has come to plague the Merseyside outfit this campaign.
The Reds central trio struggled throughout the first hour, with the visitors being outplayed in the middle of the park. Joe Allen looked completely out of his depth before going off in the second-half, whilst Lucas Leiva may have been on track for a second yellow card had he not been subbed for Sturridge at half-time.
It's been an issue on a number of occasions this season that Liverpool's midfield has lacked balance. Injuries to Lucas forced Allen to play a more defensive role and since the Brazilian reutrned to the starting line-up Allen has looked awkward in a more advanced position which restricts his long-range passing abilities.
Sturridge livened Liverpool up upon his half-time arrival and got the goal which halved the deficit, leaving questions to be asked, fitness concerns aside, as to why the £12 million man wasn’t played from the beginning against a Manchester United side which have been fragile at the back throughout the course of the season.
The substitution of the largely ineffective Raheem Sterling for Fabio Borini further aided Liverpool’s attacking efforts, with one of the handful of positives Rodgers could take from the game being the partnership between the front three of the Italian, Suarez and Sturridge. Both Sturridge and Borini wasted chances, but in their defense both have been out for prolonged periods and will need time to regain their match sharpness.
Another sign of optimism could be found in Liverpool’s resolve after going behind. So often this season the Merseyside outfit have struggled to come back when conceding the first goal and the teams fight back after going down by two shows the glimmer of a Liverpool side who have a belief they can get a result not only in games they are expected to win but also those they are not.
It’s worth mentioning, too, that this isn't the end of the world for Liverpool. Defeat in the North West derby will be immensely disappointing for the Reds, but in their attempts to prove themselves against top level competition Liverpool have trips to Manchester City and Arsenal over the coming weeks, both a chance to draw a line under Sunday’s events.
In the same fixture in 2009 Liverpool walked away from the game 4-1 winners - a result that put them in serious contention for the league title. On Sunday the Reds were largely outplayed by a Manchester United side who sit some 24 points above them in a game which offered Rodgers side the chance to show their steady growth but instead highlighted the challenges they face going forward.1014548