A difficult week is over. However, it ended with the Reds getting the best result out of the four teams contesting a place in the top four.
A few weeks back, Liverpool were eight points off 4th place. Now the gap is down to four. Lost in all the drama of an FA cup shock (which, let's face it, happened to Shankly, Paisley and Dalglish, and to Alex Ferguson as recently as this month) was that the Reds are closing in on the top four.
No team enjoys going to Stoke. They break up the game and play to their strength (and height). They make it scrappy, and a battle, and are well within their rights to do so. (Even if the player to get the most touches on Saturday was the little-known A Towel.)
If only games lasted 89 minutes instead of 90; so many late goals conceded by Liverpool. Then again, if they did, the Reds would have had a much worse season last year. Fine margins, and all that.
There aren't too many good things to say about this season, beyond the development of some of the younger players, the blooding of several teenagers, and a handful of standout results. It's been a struggle. But it happens.
If this season was indicative of Rafa Benítez's entire reign, then I'd understand the calls to replace him.
But clearly it isn't.
The Daily Mail recently ran a piece stating comparing the exact same point of the season in the final campaigns of Graeme Souness and Gérard Houllier.
Unfortunately, they omitted the vital point that in each case, the previous season had also been one of underachievement. By contrast, last season was the club's best in 19 years.
Is what Rafa Benítez is experiencing now akin to Arsene Wenger last season at Arsenal, or to the situations of Souness and Houllier?
I have my beliefs, but I don't know for certain; and I don't see how anyone, bar the truly clairvoyant, can. The fortunes of all teams ebb and flow. Managers turn things around all the time.
Of course, some don't. But equally, some managers don't even get the chance; Ferguson was perilously close to the sack after four years at United, before he'd won a single trophy. Had he been sacked in 1989/90, no-one would have said "but his guy can win ten league titles in the next two decades!". We'd now just laugh at his record.
Souness did not lose his job because of his poor final season. In 1992/93, his second full campaign, Liverpool were a staggering 16th in the table after no fewer than 30 games, and out of all cups by 13th January. That really is struggling.
That season the Reds recovered somewhat, and ended up finishing 6th, but it was 6th for the 2nd consecutive season. The next season was no better, and therefore Souness walked as, in the end, the team struggled to an 8th-placed finish. So to compare this season with the Souness era is highly egregious.
By contrast to Souness, the final two years under Houllier were not quite so bad. (Although, to me, they still felt pretty grim at the time.)
In the summer of 2003, before the never-before-seen investment at Chelsea and Manchester City, Liverpool, by finishing 5th, hadn't even qualified for the following season's Champions League.
It's only been a mainstay of Liverpool life under Benítez; not that his critics would dare admit it.
So, even though there's been increased competition, Benítez has apparently "not taken the club forward", despite having seen the Reds ranked #1 in Europe based on his first five years in charge, and last season winning 75% of all available points: the 2nd highest in the club's history.
That's not a stat about how many corners were won; it's a stat about winning a lot of football matches.
In three of Rafa's five full seasons his side have finished above Arsene Wenger's Arsenal in the league, and he's reached twice as many Champions League finals.
It's five years since Arsenal finished in the top two; Liverpool did so last year.
And yet Wenger clearly remains a great manager, even though his main achievements at Arsenal were prior to the new investment in English football at other clubs.
He turned around their poor season last time out, and they again look very good. I've been contacted by Arsenal fans pointing out that Benítez can do the same. (Last season I told them to stick with Wenger.)
How many times during the last 20 years have Liverpool still been in with the chance of the title in May? Excluding the last time the club were champions (1989/90), just twice. One of those times was last season, and the end of those particular hopes came a full ten days later than the other May finale, which was in 1997.
To reiterate a point I've made before, the earliest a season has been over under Benítez (and by 'over' I mean no chance of silverware, and only including a realistic hope of winning the title) is the very last day of April; the other four times, it was the 13th of May or later. Whether or not trophies were won, we've had full value in those campaigns.
By contrast, Souness' second and third seasons were over by January.
Roy Evans took two of his seasons to May (one lost FA Cup final, one good title challenge), one to late April and one to March.
Gérard Houllier took one to May (the excellent 2000/01, with two cup finals that month), one to late April (2001/02, when Arsenal won the league on the 29th), but of the other four, one was over by March 2nd (though that was when the League Cup was won), one was over in February and two were over in January.
In each of Houllier's final four seasons, the campaign 'ended' a month earlier than the previous year: May, then April, then March, then February.
So when I see this revisionist nonsense that things have been worse under Rafa, I despair. Managers should be judged on their overall record, not a one-season blip. (Only two poor seasons in a row is cause for really serious concern; I've said this for many, many years.)
This season the wheels have come off. But the engine hasn't blown, and a car than once ran well can do so again. (If the 'wheels coming off' is the absence of injured players, they can be reattached.)
Everyone has their opinion on what's gone wrong. For me, it's too many factors to pinpoint even in 1,500 words; instead, it's a collision of all sorts of things: the perfect storm.
Injuries have plagued all of the major sides to varying degrees this season, but the Reds suffered theirs earliest. That contributed to a bad start, and, just like going 2-0 down in the first ten minutes of a game, it becomes a little more desperate, as it did at Arsenal last season. Situations can snowball. And Liverpool's injuries have recurred, time and again.
There's been some nervous defending late in games, to lead to goals being conceded, and some chances missed by players who have been very reliable in previous seasons. Some players have fallen below their usual standards; that can happen, and does happen, to the best of them, but in Liverpool's case, these problems have coincided.
Liverpool's set-piece defending was poor in the first few months, and cost points, but this also coincided to injuries to several of the back line.
It's been far better in the last few months, and anyone who thinks it was poor at Stoke just because one goal was conceded needs their head examining. (The defending was excellent, especially from Kyrgiakos, as time and again the home side launched long throws, corners and free-kicks into the box; it just took one slight lapse, late on, to cost two points.)
It always sounds like whinging to point it out, but referees haven't helped. Despite one or two fortunate decisions, the vast majority seem to have been against Liverpool. Not all have cost points, but several came at the end of games, where the result could have been altered. Last year it seemed fairly even; this year, I feel that the Reds have been hard done by.
By my calculations (aided by subscribers to The Tomkins Times), Liverpool have been awarded just two penalties, but denied a further eleven clear-cut calls (therefore not including ball-to-hand penalty claims). The Reds have also conceded not one but two goals that actually contravene the laws of the game. I can't recall a season like it, and nor can most fans I speak to.
(What interests me is that all of these occurred in domestic matches; so this doesn't excuse the uncharacteristic European struggles, which was down to one very poor display in Italy and a couple of sloppy late goals against Lyon, but does make me wonder why English referees are making so many glaring errors; in two cases - at Sunderland and West Ham - not even knowing the rules to the game. That's shocking.)
Had Liverpool been awarded some of these clear penalties - dating back to the foul on Voronin in the opening game at Spurs - it would have helped relieve pressure and could have led to better performances.
But they weren't awarded, the pressure mounted, the injuries increased and the football just hasn't been good enough.
No manager in the world can wave a magic wand. The very least Benítez deserves is some respect for his achievements, and some patience and understanding for what has been a season beset with bad fortune.
If some of his decisions haven't been good enough, fair enough. No-one can get it right all the time. But clearly he's been working to rectify things: selling two players and bringing in Maxi is just one example.
And yet - to end on a note relating to the Reds' midweek opponents -many in the media seem to treat Benítez as another Christian Gross, rather than a man who has won two La Liga titles, a Uefa Cup, an FA Cup and taken the Reds to two Champions League Finals, winning one; not to mention masterminding the Reds best title challenge for almost 20 years, as recently as 2009.
Aside from that, and the fact that he's yet to have a non-event season, he's obviously fair game.