This didn't tally with what I believed to be the case. Last season, time and time again, the Reds showed incredible character to rescue lost causes, and lose so few games.
But a confidence crisis can mask effort; it's not that the players weren't trying, but it's harder to want to the ball, and do something special with it, when your touch is awry.
The fact that Liverpool have dug their way out of a slump with a mixture of gutsy performances and tactical know-how, in the face of some of the most incredibly hyperbolic football reporting I've ever seen, goes some way to reassure me that I hadn't got it wrong after all.
Flair is certainly present in the squad, but 2010 has been about battling for the points, often against long-ball or overtly physical teams, with 6ft 4"+ midfielders and strikers.
When Torres, Benayoun and Johnson return, and when Aquilani and Maxi are more acclimatised (the last few games will have been like nothing they'd experienced in Italy and Spain!), the play can become more expansive - but the new year to date has been about character, first and foremost. Dig in, grind out.
The fact that Steven Gerrard appears to be getting back to his best is another major factor that will help in the improvement of the aesthetic side of the game, and an increase in confidence - and a lessening of the hysteria (and the insane pressure it brings, not to mention Anfield edginess) - should help free the players to express themselves.
I hate to say it, but yet again we've just seen another shocking refereeing display, with the number of inexplicable decisions against the Reds rising and rising. Thankfully, Liverpool are now playing well enough to override this misfortune. But it shouldn't have to be this way.
Even in victory, and even if Kyrgiakos' sending off was technically correct, the incidents involving Pienaar on Mascherano (straight red card, no debate), Fellaini kicking a prone Kuyt in the face (straight red card, no debate) and Fellaini going for Kyrgiakos' shin instead of the ball (straight red card, no debate) need to be highlighted as yet further examples of more going against the Reds than for them - this season at least.
A couple of years back, Kuyt could easily have seen red at Goodison, and that's the way it goes; the Reds were very lucky that day, especially as he stayed on and scored the winner, and an Everton penalty was denied soon after.
But this season, time and time again, it's been letter-of-the-law stuff that hasn't been applied correctly, from beach balls to double-touch penalties to studs just below a player's knee so that his shinpad ends up around his ankle.
Even so, the Reds are starting to rise above the worst season for injuries and refereeing decisions I can remember. So the guts, the character, is there.
This campaign has been a testing time for everyone with an interest in Liverpool FC, from fans to players to management, but the media's intoning of the team's last rites has (yet again) proved premature. The ailing patient is up and fighting.
Fourth place is still far from a formality - lots can happen yet - but suddenly even third isn't beyond contemplation.
I got hugely frustrated a few weeks ago when people were going on about Birmingham, at that point above the Reds, being better than Liverpool; teams like this almost always fall away sooner or later. But some people cannot see beyond the league table at such points in a season. I guess that they panic. I had people talking to me as if it was May already.
Some teams don't have the quality and consistency to stay up there; or the stamina; or, when the going gets tough, the bottle. Time and time again under Benítez, Liverpool have proved that they have all three.
In little over a month, an eight-point deficit for fourth place has become a one-point comfort zone. And while Manchester City have games in hand, their defeat at Hull puts a different complexion on their challenge.
Long-term, you have to worry about what their spending policy will mean to rivals, but even with a squad that costs over £100m more than the Reds', they still haven't really taken advantage of the absence of Torres and others.
The good news for Liverpool is that, bar any dramatic changes, these key men can be slowly introduced back into a side in form, rather than thrown into the fray in desperation.
I could talk all day about the qualities of players like Torres, Gerrard, Carragher, Agger, Reina, Johnson, Mascherano, Benayoun, et al, but I often gain more pleasure from highlighting the successes of the unsung and the overly criticised.
No player is perfect. And obviously, in any team, some players are better than others. But everyone contributes something. And if the less-heralded players are doing a great job, then someone needs to redress that balance.
Half of Liverpool's team of late - Kyrgiakos, Lucas, Kuyt, Insua and N'Gog - have been rubbished at some point this season, if not for most of it. Not good enough for the Premiership? Not good enough for Liverpool? On recent evidence, they are. It's not about everyone being 'world-class', it's about the team as a whole.
A microcosm of Kuyt's worth could be seen in a couple of second-half derby minutes. Aside from that moment at Goodison, I don't think I've ever seen him lose his head (even if he could have literally lost it yesterday, when it was treated like a football).
You could see how fired up he was after scoring the goal, his face flushed with anger and visibly scarred by Fellaini's stud marks. And anyone who knows football is aware that scoring goals can lead to 'switching off', when the excitement takes over and the brain goes into hiding.
And yet there was the Dutchman, so shortly after that big adrenaline burst, in the right-back position, to make a goal-saving interception. It'll never make a YouTube compilation, but it was a spell of football that won Liverpool the game. That's why he kept being selected even when not at his best; he has the heart of a lion, and he will always turn things around.
Ditto Lucas. The Brazilian doesn't score goals, and suffers the daft fate of being compared to the stereotype of his fellow countrymen (as if every single Brazilian international was a showboat king).
Yet I'd take the heart and guts of this young player over a work-shy trickster like Robinho, who has failed to contribute at Manchester City to the point where the £32m man has been loaned back to Santos. Some players are great when their team is playing well and having a stroll. Lucas rolls his sleeves up and puts in every last ounce of energy, whatever the situation.
To me, Lucas has looked the more worthy of a place in the Brazil team based on his form this season. He can't do the really exciting things like Robinho (although he has shown some nifty footwork in tight situations), but it only takes one big-name player to not look bothered to drag the rest down to walking pace.
Indeed, that's why Fernando Torres has been such a success: he matches ability with effort. In the latest edition of FourFourTwo, he talks about his incessant desire to get better, and places his massive improvement since arriving at Liverpool at the door of Benitez, whose perfectionism and advice helps him find that little extra in the penalty box. (Not that the manager gets such credit when others talk about Torres.)
But such players need those like Kuyt and Lucas doing the legwork behind them - but also showing the tactical nous that goes unnoticed by a lot of people.
Just as Kuyt had earlier got back to deny an almost certain goal, when Anichebe finally got past Insua, Lucas was the one back making a last-ditch intervention that, by denying the Everton striker a clear last-minute shot, could well have been worth two points.
Insua and Ngog are two others - both 20 when the season started - who get some quite baffling criticism as they learn the game. Ngog hasn't scored for a few weeks, but his hold-up play is superb for one so young (and when he's filled out a bit, he'll be able to use strength as well as scontrol), and Insua has come through the blip all youngsters experience to once again show his ability.
Many fans (of all clubs) are quick to call for youngsters to be thrown in, then get instantly dismayed when they're not the finished article, and angry over every mistake they make. As Opta recently noted, Liverpool's average age this season is the second-lowest in the Premier League, behind Arsenal. So the side is young enough already.
It's been tough at times, but the adversity will have helped Ngog and Insua - not mention the five others to feature in major games when aged 20 or under.
On another note, I thought it was brilliant to see Rafa standing up to Sky's questioning of zonal marking before the derby, retorting with the example of how Tim Cahill scores most of his goals against teams deploying man-marking.
And how did Liverpool end up winning the game? From a corner in which Phil Neville was so intent on grappling with Dirk Kuyt (as was Tim Howard), he totally forgot to bother about the ball.
Last week I Tweeted about Chelsea conceding another set-piece goal, and I had a reply saying that they only sometimes concede them, but 'we concede MOST goals this way'. The fan also accused me of misrepresenting facts in general.
So I checked with Opta; Liverpool have conceded 13 of their 26 league goals from set-pieces: 50 per cent.
Chelsea (a physically imposing side who man-mark) had conceded 15 of their 20 league goals from set-pieces: 75 per cent.
Yet someone felt assured enough, even though he was quite, quite wrong, to tell me I was talking rubbish. But that's football for you.