It may not feel like it, but that was actually progress.
Liverpool still weren't very good in attack, at least until subs came on after an hour, but I've no idea how they didn't score at least once. When it rains, it pours, etc. This is the first 0-0 that Liverpool's been involved in since May 5th 2013, 58 matches ago. A handful of chances in the first half, a hatful of chances in the second half, Gerrard's best set play deliveries of the season, and two seemingly clear penalties ignored.
True, it started worryingly, with Liverpool typically blunt in with the same attacking formation: Balotelli isolated, Sterling handicapped by playing wide right, by far his weakest position. Lovren's header cleared off the line and Balotelli's fierce shot from Sterling's throughball were Liverpool's only true chances in the first half – aside from the first non-penalty, when Lallana was tackled very late after crossing – but they were better chances than almost anything created against QPR or Real Madrid.
At the same time, Liverpool were much, much better in defense. Hull offered next to nothing aside from three half-chances just before halftime, but Liverpool's conceded to opponents offering next to nothing before. Liverpool didn't have to worry about set plays because Hull had just one set play in Liverpool's half: a corner, easily dealt with. Manquillo and Moreno did well to prevent Hull's wing-backs from countering, decently protected by Allen, Can, and the center-backs. Still, that no one did anything stupid is also progress, no matter how much threat the opposition posed.
But then came the substitutions, and then came the tangible improvement, and that's where Liverpool will feel aggrieved that they didn't win the match. Lambert and Coutinho replaced Lallana and Allen; Liverpool switched to a 4-2-2-2 formation with Coutinho on the left and Sterling on the right, although both had license to roam.
Liverpool immediately upped the pressure, absolutely pinning Hull back. Coutinho was the pace-setter, Liverpool's best player despite playing only 30 minutes, and Balotelli unsurprisingly improved with more support up front. Sure, Liverpool still didn't threaten as we'd become accustomed to last season, Liverpool failed to create any clear cut chances. But they had more than enough opportunities to score, denied by a deep defense blocking shots, another goal line clearance, Lovren's complete air shot after Balotelli created an excellent chance, and another penalty ignored when Balotelli was pushed over in the 88th minute.
We probably shouldn't be surprised that Hull's third-choice keeper played out of his mind – evoking traumatic memories of 2011-12 and 2012-13 – denying Liverpool's two injury time chances: tipping over Coutinho's shot from distance and somehow stopping Balotelli's point-blank effort after more good work from the little Brazilian.
All told, that was an awful lot like last season 2-0 victory over Hull except that A) Liverpool can't rely on set plays to save the day when suffering from open play anymore and B) Neil Swarbrick ignored two penalties that should have been given. Then, even with Suarez (but again without Sturridge), Liverpool couldn't create anything from open play against a resilient back five but still won because a center-back converted a corner (*glares at Lovren*) and then tallied a direct free kick.
So what did we learn? Balotelli needs a strike partner, whether Lambert or Sterling in the pseudo-diamond we saw early on against Real Madrid or even Borini if he's ever seen again until Sturridge returns. The Italian didn't play badly in the slightest, but I still expect all the post-match nonsense to focus on him, especially after failing to take that late chance (which was well saved by Jakupovic). Coutinho needs to start more often; it's amazing how he began the season badly, then was rested and used intermittently, and now he's getting back to full form (*stares at Brendan Rodgers, then Raheem Sterling, then Rodgers again*). If Sterling has to start (and he evidently has to), don't play him on the right. Liverpool's defense is better when Manquillo and Moreno play.
Regardless of the disappointing result, that was a much more sustainable performance that the one which somehow won Liverpool all three points last week, when Liverpool were horrific and conceded twice (which should have been somewhere around five), but scored also three because QPR.
It was better to be lucky than good against QPR, but after awhile, you've got to make your own luck. That obviously didn't happen today, but if Liverpool can repeat and build on this performance – more specifically, the final 30 minutes of this performance – they'll start making that luck sooner rather than later.