Liverpool's 2-0 home defeat to West Brom was greeted with a mixture of anger, bemusement and incredulity by the Anfield faithful, but the painful reality for Kopites is that it wasn't a shocking result. The ninth-placed team beat the eighth-placed team to leapfrog them in the Premier League table, with more than two-thirds of the season gone. That is not a shock, unless you wear red-tinted glasses.
The history of Liverpool Football Club carries great expectations that are, at present, unlikely to be fulfilled. This season isn't an aberration, because the Reds have been slipping further and further away from the Champions League places since coming close to winning the title in 2009.
To put things in perspective, in the last half a century Liverpool have finished outside the top five just nine times. Yet this year will almost certainly be a fourth consecutive campaign in which the Reds have failed to finish fifth or above – an unprecedented run since Bill Shankly took Liverpool up in 1962. It could yet end with a lowest top flight finish since relegation in 1954.
In the 2009/10 season, under Rafael Benitez, Liverpool finished seventh; seven points off fourth place. In 2010/11, under first Roy Hodgson and then Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool finished sixth, but were actually 10 points adrift of fourth. Last season, Dalglish's team finished eighth, a whopping 17 points away from fourth (which didn't even earn a Champions League place for Tottenham).
Now Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool sit in ninth place with 36 points after 26 games, which is two places and three points worse than this stage last campaign. It may only be four years since the Reds thrashed Real Madrid 5-0 in the Champions League, but supporters dreaming of a quick return to Europe's elite need to get real, if you'll pardon the pun.
Expectations are steadily being adjusted at Anfield. Last summer, for the first time since Champions League places were awarded to clubs other than the champions, Liverpool – from the owners to the fans – seemed to accept that qualifying for Europe's premier club competition would be beyond them this year.
Old habits die hard, however, and for a club with five European Cups on their honours list, it's almost impossible not to start dreaming of a speedy return to their old stage. So it is that, after a couple of promising performances, talk prematurely turns to Liverpool rising up the table and claiming fourth.
Yes, Rodgers' side showed promise at Arsenal and Manchester City, but only two points were garnered. Last season, Dalglish's Liverpool won at the Emirates and Stamford Bridge, so good performances against the top sides are nothing new.
The trend over recent years is clear, however. Liverpool are a club fighting for a Europa League place at best. The absolute limit of their immediate Premier League ambition should be overtaking Everton and finishing sixth, but even that may be unrealistic. For now, Swansea, West Brom and Stoke are Liverpool's rivals.
No wonder Jamie Carragher wants to retire.
What do you think Liverpool's ambition should be for the rest of this season and how quickly do you believe they can realistically expect to challenge for the Champions League place? Have your say by commenting below…