Romilly Evans wonders if Luis Suarez and his new partner Daniel Sturridge can haul the Reds back to the bigtime...
If the Manchester clubs have separated themselves in their own private battle for the Premier League title, the race for the final two Champions League places is a worthy sideshow. Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur currently occupy third and fourth, but three talented sides (Everton, Arsenal and Liverpool) are massing behind them in one of the more competitive betting heats about for a Top Four Finish.
After the weekend's FA Cup festivities, the midweek fixture list more than makes up for the top-flight break - and Wednesday pits two of those sides against one another in a mouthwatering clash: Arsenal v Liverpool. It's a tie which will put the victor squarely in the race for fourth, while dropping the loser back into the pack of also-rans.
Quite how Liverpool are in this position after their worst start to a league campaign since 1952 is testimony to the erratic performances of those above them and the virtuoso efforts of Luis Suarez, who has almost single-handedly kept them within touching distance via his 16 goals (only two shy of Robin van Persie's current leading mark).
But in recent weeks, the Uruguayan has been getting by with a little help from his friends. Captain fantastic, Steven Gerrard, is finally returning to the sort of form which earnt him the moniker in the first place. While the recent acquisition of Daniel Sturridge from Chelsea appears to have added a new attacking dimension for Liverpool.
Sturridge has now bagged three goals in his opening three starts for the Reds (the first Liverpool player to do so since Ray Kennedy in 1974) and while it is early days to say that boss Brendan Rodgers has happened upon a winning formula up front, both Suarez and Sturridge already appear to have a blossoming understanding.
Comparisons with other dynamic duos, however, are as premature as they are inevitable. Suarez and Sturridge may neatly fit the SAS acronym, as eloquently demonstrated by to Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton, whose strikes propelled Blackburn to the title in 1995. But they are a very different proposition. And even if you trade military for air force comparisons, they are a long way short of the RAF (Ian Rush and Robbie Fowler) forward partnership which assumed mentor and protégé status at Anfield.
Nevertheless, the pair's first appearance together - with Suarez starting from a deeper position behind Sturridge - was the inspiration behind Liverpool's 5-0 trouncing of Norwich City. Now granted, Saturday's Cup saw that even non-league Luton could defeat the Canaries at the moment (one draw and six losses in the last seven), but there could be no dismissing the total stranglehold which Liverpool exerted, particularly around the opposition penalty area.
Suarez, in particular, shows no signs of shining the spotlight on his strike partner and departing into the shadows of creating, not taking. Instead, any who have backed him for this season's Golden Boot should be emboldened that he can overtake RVP atop the goal-scorer charts.
Rogers finally seems to have instilled a balance on the park and his 4-3-3 system appears to be functioning more efficiently with its new chassis. When he was at Ajax before coming to England, Suarez operated in a similar roaming role behind the No.10 and that didn't stop him from netting regularly and bagging Player of the Year honours to boot.
Sturridge, on the other hand, lacks Suarez's versatility and has to be employed as the centre forward. Yet the 23-year-old brings pace and power, coupled to a presence of mind that belies his tender years. That £12m they paid could seem like a steal, now that he has a manger's full backing and two exceptional providers in Suarez and Gerrard.
Stevie G has recently rediscovered the precise passing which has allowed him to unlock any defence down the years and his options have only improved now that he has another recognised goalscorer to aim for in Sturridge. The Liverpool captain certainly appears to have a renewed appetite for the game, but he knows that any ambitions his side have on playing Champions League football could well be coloured by their next two games - away to Arsenal and Manchester City.
Wednesday's match against Arsenal could prove particularly pivotal. Not only will a victory see Liverpool draw level on points with the Gunners, but the game is a real marker for how far the Reds have come under Rogers, so similar is his flowing brand of football to Arsene Wenger's. If they can out-manoeuvre Arsenal at the Emirates, the bar will have been unequivocally raised.
Suarez, Sturridge and their collective ability to finish will doubtless make the difference either way. And while their union remains formative, its potential, even now, is very real. It's been a while since Liverpool's RAF were gathered to god. Perhaps they've finally found a winning combination to take up the mantle.