Liverpool lost on a last-minute extra-time goal, Liverpool displayed a handful of the same problems – and those problems are the reason that Liverpool lost – and yet there might still be more positives than negatives. Which is weird.
We know how we got here. Liverpool can't finish chances – even when they create some decent ones – and Liverpool struggle to defend crosses: one from open play, one from a set play, both to the back post. All four of West Ham's goals against Liverpool at Upton Park this season came from crosses to the back post. It's not a coincidence.
But a very young Liverpool side (again) mostly outplayed a much more experienced West Ham side, this time on their own ground. Liverpool started with a midfield of Kevin Stewart, Pedro Chirivella, and Joao Teixeira – a combined 12 appearances prior to today; 22, 18, and 23 years old respectively – and more than matched West Ham's triumvirate of Mark Noble, Cheick Kouyate, and Pedro Obiang. Meanwhile, Liverpool's center-backs were Lucas and Ilori, and both did surprisingly well, Lucas' concession of the free kick for West Ham's winner not withstanding. The returning Coutinho, Sturridge, and Origi all played an hour – the first scoring Liverpool's lone goal from a clever free kick, with Sturridge also coming close on a couple of opportunities.
But if you miss multiple chances and fail to fix defensive deficiencies, you're probably going to lose most matches. As Liverpool is, by now, well aware.
• 15' - Benteke at the back post from a corner, saved
• 29' - Teixeira from 12 yards out, just wide
• 34' - Coutinho from close range, off the post
• 34' - Stewart's rebound from Coutinho's shot, blocked
• 35' - Benteke at the back post from a corner, again, saved
• 56' - Benteke, eight yards out, blocked
• 80' - Benteke's clever free kick, saved
• 90' - Ibe vicious left-footer from distance, saved
• 99' - Benteke from the top of the box, wide
• 99' - Benteke one-on-one with Randolph, saved
• 108' - Sturridge, just outside the box, just over the bar
• 109' - Origi, from a tight left-footed angle, wide of the near post
It's not as if West Ham were without chances of their own. In the first half, O'Brien hit the post, then Payet's free kick was saved onto the post before Mignolet parried Antonio's rebound. In the second half, Mignolet tipped over a no-angle outside-of-the boot shot from Antonio and Valencia mis-hit a header from Payet's wonderful cross, while Ilori could have also been called for a penalty on Valencia.
Liverpool had more and better chances, were dominant for longer spells. But Liverpool's couldn't take advantage. And then Ogbonna struck in added time of extra-time: a perfect free kick, out-jumping Stewart and Flanagan, with the added bonus that it was a Charmin-soft free kick unnecessarily conceded by Lucas but also unnecessarily called.
Over the two matches, Liverpool outshot West Ham 38 to 26, 12 on-target to eight. Benteke had 13 of those shots – more than a third – with six on-target, five off-target, and two blocked. At least two were clear-cut chances. None led to a goal. He remains without a goal in 2016, having played 668 minutes over 11 and a half matches, six as a starter and six as a substitute. That's not good. With Sturridge and Origi returning, and if they stay fit (*knocks on every piece of wood in the house*), it's hard to see him staying in the side.
But, again, despite the disappointment as well as my usual proclivity for pessimism, I can't help but focus on the few positives. The above list of shots were still more and better chances than the side's created in recent matches, in most matches, even if only one led to a goal: Coutinho's clever free kick, hit under West Ham's jumping wall. The players who returned today will make a massive difference to the side. The kids are again alright: Stewart, Chirivella, and Teixeira most notably, but Ilori to a lesser extent, and even Brad Smith, despite having what seemed his worst match as a starter. I'd hope that Liverpool give them all more opportunities weeks to come, even if those opportunities will be harder to come by with Liverpool exiting this competition.
It'd have been nice to see Liverpool advance in another cup competition, but it's not as if they'll really rue missing yet another match this month. The benefit of an FA Cup run pretty much only benefited the above players who rarely play otherwise.
Today certainly wasn't perfect. Today again featured problems we've seen in the past. But it also wasn't last Saturday's late capitulation. It wasn't the attacking ineptitude we saw at Leicester or against Stoke in the second leg League Cup semifinal or any number of other matches. It wasn't the complete and utter failure at West Ham in the league, or Watford, or Newcastle. And it happened with an almost completely different XI than we usually see in league matches.
Maybe it's a sign of just how much the season's beaten me down, but I still can't help be grateful that at least we had positives and at least we can see promise, despite the result.