Steven Gerrard and Jose Reina, to whom Liverpool owed their impressive early Champions League progress in Marseilles on Tuesday night, were not aware until it was put to them yesterday quite how difficult to beat their side has become.
Since the excruciating 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford last March which suggested that Liverpool's pretensions to a 19th title anytime soon were delusional, they have lost just one game (the Champions League semi final at Stamford Bridge), collected more league points than either Manchester United or Arsenal and as many (27) as Chelsea. The side might not always sparkle but when defeat becomes so alien as it currently is the dressing room feels like a different place.
Gerrard, whose two goals in Marseilles have him believing that one of his most frustrating starts to a season may be behind him, was certainly struck by the mood before Tuesday's game, which Liverpool entered in a different frame of mind to their last visit to the south of France, nine months ago.
"In the changing room before the game I could sense we were going to get another positive result," he said yesterday. "The changing room's very positive at the moment and that's what we try to do – go on runs. The league and the Champions League help each other out really – winning in one helps winning in the other. I certainly feel we are stronger than last year. It was disappointing to lose in the semi-final then, and we want to go all the way this time."
Atletico Madrid's 4-0 win in Eindhoven on Tuesday will compound Liverpool's sense that they can build quickly, with PSV at Anfield next up. Victory then will send Liverpool to Madrid with their destiny in their own hands.
Reina feels the difference on this time last season, too. "I didn't know [about the record of one defeat] but it's really important to have that winning mentality," he said. "The atmosphere is special at the moment. The only thing we can be aiming for is to win and we have to go little by little, step after step and game after game."
Reina's role in seeing Liverpool home after a heart-stopping finale to Tuesday night's match, saving with his feet from Mamadou Niang at near point-blank range at the death, cannot be understated. "He's immense," Gerrard said of the Spaniard. "It's at moments like that when you really need him. There are certain games when it's been very quiet for the goalkeeper, but then you need him to come out and make a match-winning, world class save."
But Benitez's defensive questions have not all been answered. The full-backs Alvaro Arbeloa, on the right, and Andrea Dossena, on the left, looked vulnerable – Dossena, with his lack of pace, especially so – and the way Marseilles turned over the centre-backs for their goal will lead the reportedly disgruntled Daniel Agger to wonder when his next chance will come.
But offensively, Benitez is a man with options. Victory in the Stade Velodrome was accomplished with one half of his lavish strike partnership, Fernando Torres, easing himself back in and the other, Robbie Keane, on the bench. Albert Riera needed only a late cameo role to offer more of his promise, threatening down the left before cutting back for one of the three opportunities Ryan Babel was handed.
Gerrard also believes he can put a desperate start to the season behind him. The Liverpool captain winced when he described his struggle with a groin problem which has limited his pre-season appearances and seen him out of the England set-up. "I have had a nightmare pre-season," he said. "I had problems with my groin throughout, but that's behind me now. I feel sharp again. I just need training and games to get back to my maximum level."
Results: Marseilles 1 Liverpool 2; PSV Eindhoven 0 Atletico Madrid 3.
Liverpool's remaining group stage fixtures: 1 October: PSV Eindhoven (h); 22 October: Atletico Madrid (a); 4 November: Atletico Madrid (h); 26 November: Marseilles (h); 9 December: PSV Eindhoven (a).
Liverpool's run of form
Since 'Super Sunday' on 23 March when Liverpool lost to Man Utd, the Anfield side have the best record of the 'Big Four':
Liverpool, All games P18 W11 D6 L1
Premier League P11 W8 D3 L0 Points 27
Chelsea, All games P18 W11 D5 L2
Premier League P12 W8 D3 L1 Points 27
Arsenal, All games P15 W9 D2 L4
Premier League P11 W7 D1 L3 Points 22
Manchester United, All games P17 W9 D5 L3
Premier League P10 W5 D3 L2 Points 18