Liverpool. Once a name that sent absolute terror through the hearts of teams in the top division. Well, based on what I witnessed over 90 minutes yesterday as Swansea City deservedly beat the current incarnate of the red Mersey giants one – nil, absolute pleasure will probably be the phrase that Brendan Rodgers will use to describe his encounter with Kenny Dalglish’s underachieving class of 2012.
[caption id="attachment_14530" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Ashley Williams stands up to Andy Carroll"][/caption]
I have watched from afar this season as Liverpool have huffed and puffed but blown very little down as their new investments in recent times, Carroll, Henderson and Downing have struggled to justify anything remotely near to their £71 million combined price tags. Yesterday, the three of them came up directly against Swansea’s Ashley Williams, Joe Allen and Neil Taylor, who represent a combined investment of £550,000 for the club, a saving of £70,450,000 on their Liverpool counterparts. That statistic alone speaks volumes about the differences between the expectations of both clubs, but tells nothing about the real value of the players involved.
Williams suppressed Carroll to an extent that the striker was restricted to just three efforts on target in the 90 minutes, Allen completely dominated Henderson in almost every department of the game, and Downing? Well, I know that wingers, historically, are liable to drift in and out of games, but the fact that Downing was substituted after just 61 minutes tells you all you need to know about the effectiveness of his performance yesterday. But if you do want to know more, 19 passes, no shots and one accurate cross tells me that I would not exactly be keen to invest anywhere near the £16 million Liverpool paid Aston Villa for his services should he ever become surplus to requirements at Anfield. On yesterday’s dismal showing, that day could come sooner than Downing thinks.
When the fixture list came out last year, part of me hoped that Swansea wouldn’t need a point to remain in the league from their last two games, coming as they did against Manchester United and Liverpool. But in truth, bar a couple of scares and two small periods late in the second half when Liverpool had five minute spells where they threatened to lay siege to the Swansea goal, the Swans enjoyed their usual massive possession advantage, and at times, passed their illustrious opponents to oblivion.
In terms of possession, Swansea’s 62.5% dwarfed the 37.5% of Liverpool, and despite Kenny Dalglish being aware of Swansea’s penchant for keeping the ball, even he would have been surprised to see the Swans restricting his team to just 272 accurate passes, whilst having to watch his opponents stroke the ball around for approaching double that – 532. In fact, in the opening half hour, it was all Swansea and whilst they never worked the nervous looking Doni as much as they would have wanted, they taught Liverpool a passing lesson, the like of which Liverpool themselves used to give to teams in their glorious heyday.
And in terms of that passing lesson, nothing emphasises Swansea’s superiority more than Allen compared with Henderson. In fairness, Henderson didn’t have a bad game, always looking to move forward as his forward pass rate of 40% attests, but in terms of impact on the game, he was completely outshone by Allen. The Welsh international was once again perpetual motion and drove his team forward at every opportunity. He made 67 passes, completing 62 for another extraordinary percentage rate of 93%, figures that completely outshine the stats of Henderson, who attempted just 45 passes, completing 37 for a success rate of only 82%. Allen cost nothing, Henderson £20 million. Judging on this season, if the big boys do start calling at Swansea with Allen in their sights, then chairman Huw Jenkins can point at Henderson and ask prospective bidders to begin their negotiations at £25 million. At least.
Elsewhere, Leon Britton was in exemplary form as ever, completing 76 of his 79 passes for a 96% success rate. When compared to Liverpool’s other central midfielder, Jonjo Shelvey who himself had an impressive 93% success rate, the fact that his impressive figure was based on only 44 passes, again highlights Britton’s dominance. In fact, if we combine the figures of Allen and Britton to those of Henderson and Shelvey, then we see that the Swansea duo completed 138 out of their 146 passes compared to the 78 out of 89 of the Liverpudlians, figures that would surely concern Dalglish, occurring as they do, in the boiler-house of his team.
Defensively, once again, Swansea were indebted to Michel Vorm, especially when he superbly saved Andy Carroll’s acrobatic overhead kick in the second half. This followed one magical moment in the first half when he sold Luis Suarez an outrageous dummy whilst in his own six yard box before calmly playing the ball out to Steven Caulker. Vorm’s quality with the ball at his feet has been integral to the way that Brendan Rodgers has set his team up to play this season, and yesterday his open play pass success rate of 76% was better than Jamie Carragher (74%), Glen Johnson, (69%), Daniel Agger (72%) and Martin Kelly (65%) – the whole of Liverpool’s back four. When compared to his opposite number Doni, the figures are even more stark and underline the fundamental difference between the way Swansea build everything from the back in a controlled manner compared to the hurried way Doni performed when the ball was at his feet, often choosing the hack instead of looking for a team-mate.
Vorm attempted 37 open play passes (interestingly, six more than Carragher), completing 28 for his 76% success rate, whereas Doni was extremely shaky on the deck as his 13 attempted passes – completing just seven for a 54% success rate demonstrates. There was one incident in the second half which highlight just how important a ball playing goal keeper is to a team. Daniel Agger found himself under pressure by miss-controlling a straightforward ball, and as Danny Graham closed him down and realising that a back pass to Doni was not an attractive option, Agger just lamely played the ball into touch, handing the initiative back to Swansea. That would never have happened with Michel Vorm as a pass option, and when you add in Vorm’s excellence in all other parts of his game, you quickly realise how priceless he has now become to his team.
The killer blow in the match when it came was as clinical a finish as you are likely to ever see from Danny Graham. The hard-working striker was kept on for the full 90 minutes by his manager this week, and his reward was the crispest of finishes as he swept in Angel Rangel’s pinpoint cross. Graham’s role in the team is far more than providing goals, and week after week, his selfless running often goes unrewarded. But ultimately, strikers are all judged on goals and Graham’s debut return of 12, seeing him finish behind only Rooney and Holt in terms of English goal scorers is a more than commendable effort which, importantly, will prove to him that he has what it takes to be a success at this level.
Thanks to Graham’s strike, Swansea’s debut Premier League season ended with a bang in a carnival atmosphere at the Liberty Stadium and Brendan Rodgers understands that he can now look forward to next season with the confidence of knowing he has a team that has been capable of beating the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal, and of course, the Premier League Champions, Manchester City. With scalps like that to your name, you no longer need to fear anyone.
Whatever way you look at it, the future is bright for Swansea City.