In his latest article for Liverpoolfc.com, columnist Paul Tomkins reflects on the 0-0 Anfield draw with Stoke City.
Go back just four years, to September 2008, and you will find that every Liverpool manager who has faced a home fixture against Stoke City has experienced a 0-0 draw.
The Reds drew Rafa Beniítez's penultimate home game against the Potters 0-0. Kenny Dalglish's final Anfield encounter with Tony Pulis' men ended 0-0. And now Brendan Rodgers has continued that pattern. (Roy Hodgson only faced Stoke away, and his side lost 2-0.)
While it's fair to say that Stoke can play some decent football in fits and starts, with some reasonable wingers, their undoubted effectiveness is based on route-one. They don't make many passes - half as many as Rodgers' Swansea last season (10,817 vs 20,791) - but those they do make tend to be forward (highest percentage of forward passes out of any Premier League team in 2011/12 - 54 per cent). They attempt a through-ball roughly once every full moon.
Not clever, not cunning, not cultured. Direct.
Their game plan at Anfield seemed to be to persistently foul and disrupt Liverpool's rhythm; as evinced by their six bookings to nil. There weren't many serious fouls - although there did appear to be an early stamp on Suarez - but there were lots of niggles, infringements and aspects of time wasting. Of course, Liverpool have to learn to overcome such stubborn opponents (and to avoid hitting the post so much).
I don't think that the Reds were at their best in the final third, but some of the build-up play was superb. Things kept breaking down at the vital moment; when, for example, Suarez skipped past three defenders to shoot, he was off-balance.
The first league clean sheet is good news, even if it's two more points dropped at home. A failure to win is always disappointing, but there are plenty of positives.
The main issue right now is one of balance, and Lucas Leiva is a one-man fulcrum. Once he's back in the side things will knit together more seamlessly. Attacks will be easier to mount because he will be there to cover when it breaks down. Full-backs can overlap at will with such a brilliant reader of the game to screen the defence.
Obviously there are people who moan about "pretty football" when results disappoint. It's funny how the word 'pretty' is only used when a team shows great technical proficiency and fails to win. No-one said when Liverpool beat Nottingham Forest 5-0 in 1988 that it was 'pretty'; it was glorious, or sensational.
The adjective 'pretty' suggests a lack of substance. Prettiness in football parlance relates to a bimbo: looks good, but nothing underneath. Confusingly, there seems to be some kind of notion that if, on any single occasion, it's pretty and doesn't work, it's wrong.
Barcelona wowed the world for three years, then last season suddenly they were accused of playing pretty football. On their bad nights, people deride them for trying to "walk the ball into the net", when in the previous 10 games, they'll have 'walked' in 25-30 goals. Barcelona don't turn into Stoke when it's not going their way. (None of this is to say that Liverpool are as good as Barcelona, but they are the paragons of the passing vision.)
It turns out that, rather than some vacuous airhead whose only claim to fame is the creation of silicone, your football team can be Natalie Portman, Cindy Crawford, Kate Beckinsale or Elisabeth Shue. You can have style and substance. But it's not easy. It's much simpler to hit the channels, knock it into the mixer, play the percentages. Short-term it's a quicker fix.
Believe me, there's substance to this Liverpool side. There are a lot of brave players who won't shirk a tackle, but vitally, won't shirk a pass. Finishing remains a problem, and up until the Stoke game, gaps in front of the back four were being heavily punished (with the exception of Norwich, the opposition continue to score with almost every shot they take.)
But if the general aspects of Rodgers' team's play is good - and I believe it is - then the reintroduction of Lucas helps solve one problem. Instantly he can add a further 10 per cent to the team.
Then you're arguably looking at adding just one reliable finisher to complement the genius of Suarez and the attacking quality of Gerrard.
Fabio Borini could yet be that man, given how prolific he was at Swansea and Roma, although he also had a very slow start to last season in Italy. His work-rate, movement and penalty box instincts are first class, but he hasn't quite found the finish. Like Sterling, he needs to get a goal or two to relax; right now, both are tense in the act of shooting.
The Reds are looking like a good team, and results will surely follow. When Lucas is fit, it won't look like there's much need of major surgery to the strongest XI.
Reina's form wasn't at its best, but he's picking up, and remains one of the world's best 'keepers. He's a brilliant footballer and an incredible character.
Many neutrals said that Skrtel and Agger were the top flight's best defensive partnership last season, and both are tough cookies who are also good on the ball. Indeed, to my mind, Agger is the best all-round centre-back in English football, and I'm delighted that both he and the club are equally committed to one another.
To my mind, Glen Johnson is the most underrated player in the country. Like Agger, he's a quite brilliant footballer, and although he's not really a specialist defender, he is quick and strong, and reads the game better than he's given credit for. Of course he'll get caught out of position at times, but if you want your full-backs to play like quasi-wingers, you expect that. He's clearly two-footed when it comes to passing and shooting, although he's stronger in the tackle on his right. Right now he's doing a job for the team on the left.
Joe Allen has been an inspired addition. He's such a wonderful footballer, with a little bit of everything. The manager knows sitting deep isn't his best position, but like Johnson he's doing his part. (Both are examples of how the team's balance isn't yet at its best.)
Allen won't play hopeful long balls, preferring to find a red shirt, but when a striker shows for the ball he drills in some brilliant zipped passes to feet.
I don't need to say much about Gerrard or Suarez, as I'll just be repeating myself from other weeks. They remain great players who clearly hate losing. And I've already extolled the virtues of Lucas earlier in this piece.
Nuri Sahin looks a real thoroughbred, although he'll probably never have faced a team like Stoke before; it's all part of his 'welcome to England' education. He was better in the recent away games, when he excelled, but this is a player who was voted the best in Germany in 2011.
So I make that nine very special players. One of the issues is that four of them are central midfielders, but that's a bridge to cross when all four are fit.
I hope I'm not doing the others a disservice by excluding them, but many of them are young, and have plenty of time to become indispensable.
And of course, Jamie Carragher was a bedrock of the XI for well over a decade (but in football, holding back time is about as easy as holding back Didier Drogba at his peak - when the Ivorian wanted to stay on his feet, that is).
Some of the remainder have either yet to prove their levels of consistency, or in the case of Assaidi and Borini, are too new to have had a chance to yet do so. Some, like Henderson, are competing within the strongest area of the squad, and that's a challenge. Some have been blighted by injuries. And ultimately, as is always the case within any squad of 25+, some will prove not good enough and move on.
But the aforementioned core of players are there to build around. Excluding Reina (who can go on for another decade), the average age of the other eight is 26.2, which goes down to 25.4 when Gerrard is removed.
So that bodes extremely well. It's a great core of players, capable of playing attractive, effective football.
But around them right now are mostly youngsters. I think it's fair to say that if Sterling, Suso, Robinson and Wisdom were all two years older - with the benefits that brings - Liverpool would be much higher up the table.
What we are now experiencing is part of an exciting learning curve, but not necessarily one that's conducive to immediate perfection. Even so, it's exciting to witness.
Now, there's no guarantee to say what can be built will end up coming together as a perfect edifice. To work the metaphor until it's in danger of being tortured, you can end up with subsidence (injuries) or dry rot (players 'ageing' quicker than expected). Rival builders can swoop from nowhere and make off with a supporting column or a feature window. And there's the occasional force majeure: earthquakes, volcanoes, tornados.
But if it's well managed, it can all come together. If the vital components are locked into place (see recent contract renewals), that's a firm foundation.
Perhaps the hardest thing, though, is dealing with the inevitable inconsistencies of teenage footballers, who won't have the knowledge of how to play themselves out of a sticky patch (which could of course be wet cement, but I've now abandoned that whole metaphor).
One thing I will note about the youngsters who have played for the first team this season: they've looked cut-out for it for years. With that in mind, they shouldn't vanish into obscurity, although it can still happen.
In the middle of the last decade, when Liverpool were winning back-to-back youth cups, the sides looked like a collection of honest, hard-working pros who fought for one another, but very few looked destined for greatness.
I think four or five are now playing in the Championship, but none of them are established as top players. (One, Miki Roque, tragically died.) Given that so few youth players from any club go on to be Premier League stars, it's not particularly damning to note that roughly half of the 2006 Youth Cup side is in the Championship, and most of the others are still in professional football. But they weren't really players capable of becoming Liverpool regulars.
However, when I looked at Liverpool's youth side about 18 months ago, I wrote that if it was somehow possible - as some kind of otherwise impossible experiment - to keep that XI together for five or six years, it was easy to imagine it become a strong Premier League team. There was a style and balance about Rodolfo Borrell's young Reds that made sense.
The reality is that not everyone develops how you expect, and there will always be those who seem to have a bright future only to somehow fizzle out. But looking at Suso, Sterling and Wisdom, in particular, there was a sense of future greatness. There was something a bit better than what had gone before. They were part of a nicely-balanced team, but the XI also had some star quality. Fortunately, it wasn't like they were the only ones who looked cut out for careers at the highest level.
Jack Robinson had already become Liverpool's youngest ever player, and Jon Flanagan had followed him into the first team. Conor Coady looked a strong all-rounder, and Adam Morgan appeared to be the most natural finisher the Academy had produced since the '90s. Stephen Sama was starting to make waves, and further up the pitch, Krisztian Adorjan had a real air of class about him. Meanwhile, Michael Ngoo was a unique kind of striker. (Shelvey never played for the youth team, although he's still only 20.)
If no-one beyond Suso, Sterling and Wisdom makes the grade in the long term, that will still be a phenomenal level of talent fulfilment from the Academy. And yet it's fair to say that a fair few more stand the chance of making names for themselves (and that's before even mentioning some new additions in the past 18 months).
The hardest thing for players aged between 18 and 20 is in getting competitive first-team football, to help them improve. Right now, three Liverpool teenagers are getting that experience in the first team. As such, they are surely increasing their chances of one day becoming the first names on the team sheet.
Whether the Reds won, lost or drew against Stoke, that would remain equally true. As a result, in time, the rewards - in this instance, victories - should become more frequent.