The bad old days. The tactics were a little different, the XI was a little different, but the problems were the same and the result was the same.
This was last season, this was a very Brendan Rodgers match against Manchester United. All the faults, none of the benefits. For the first time in a "big match" under Jürgen Klopp.
Liverpool aren't great, but are the better side? Check.
Liverpool dramatically out-shoot the opposition? Check.
Liverpool waste countless chances? Check.
Liverpool concede on a set play against the run of play? Check.
On a corner? Check.
From the opposition's first shot on-target? Check.
United have had four shots on target against Liverpool this season. Scored four goals.— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) January 17, 2016
This fixture was this fixture: contentious, close-fought, and not especially full of quality.
Liverpool did a lot of good things. Liverpool pressed well, Liverpool limited counter-attacking opportunities. Liverpool won the midfield battle: Schneiderlin invisible, Lucas the metronome and actually outmuscling Fellaini in the air. Liverpool actually combined well in the final third a few times. Liverpool created a handful of good chances; not enough, but that's how this fixture goes. Some were spurned, and some were saved by a goalkeeper who constantly plays out of his mind against Liverpool.
But Liverpool couldn't finish. Too many low-percentage shots off-target, too many shots from distance, Lallana denied from Lucas' long ball in the 10th, Can wonderfully denied from distance in the 67th, Firmino unable to control in the six-yard box, possibly not realizing he was onside, only able to flick directly to De Gea in the 89th minute.
And Liverpool did a bad thing, an all-too-familiar bad thing. United's fourth corner after the first three were actually well-defended. Taken short to change the angle, Henderson losing Fellaini and Sakho jumping too soon, a header off the bar but slammed in by Rooney, who'd found space by shoving Lucas.
And then Liverpool lost.
Manchester United were Manchester United: they're certainly not awe-inspiring, but reasonably secure when they focus on keeping it tight. United are competent in defense or competent in attack – rarely, if ever, both – and unsurprisingly focused on defending. So they kept Liverpool from scoring, and assumed they'd eventually have a chance from a counter-attack or set play. And that's exactly what happened.
You want to avoid overreacting because of the opposition and result, but it's hard to avoid. Liverpool simply aren't good enough up front. The side works hard, but the squad has few, if any, match-winners and goal-scorers. Christian Benteke remains Liverpool's top scorer. Christian Benteke is Liverpool's only available out-and-out striker. Christian Benteke didn't come off the bench until Liverpool went behind, given the last 10 minutes and hoofs and crosses, and doing nothing with them. That's a damning indictment.
Meanwhile, there's Lallana and Milner, the two who joined the still-improving, still-learning, still-inconsistent, not-really-a-striker Firmino in attack. Quite good without the ball. Quite bad with it, especially the final pass or shot. They are a perfect microcosm for this side. Liverpool's attack needs to be completely revamped, but that's not happening until the summer. We're just gonna have to deal with the ride until then.
Fourth place was already gone, but that's fourth place officially gone. You've still got the cups, Liverpool. That, along with continuing to implement Klopp's ideas and – you know – trying to stop conceding on *multiple expletives deleted* set plays, is probably all you've got.