This is a week that cannot have failed to stir mixed emotions in every Liverpool fan. This season we have been treated to a revised brand of football, Liverpool’s pass and move writ large and made a doctrine to live by. The King has gone and now possession is king. Most games still have that heart in mouth moment as the ball is sometimes not so deftly passed amongst the back four in our own half as if taunting opposition to take a chance and intercept that hurried pass. Skrtel’s misplaced back pass gratefully gobbled up by Carlos Tevez to rob us of what would’ve been a famous early season victory, will not be the last gaffe on the road to scouse total football.
Added to this mix we finally have a counter for all the statisticians regaling us with critical tales of our Uruguayan’s poor conversion rate, myself amongst them. Top scorer sits well with Luis Suarez and it appears all the derision has been fuel for his fire. As someone once said, he is paying us in goals for the unflinching support of last season. But I will go on to those impressive stats shortly.
No, instead the mixed emotions relate to the man who may have left the dugout at Anfield some time ago, but seemed to have been biding his time not so far away on the Wirral. But that time passed. FSG had placed a forceful hand on the tiller, guiding a legend out of the club gently. They were not about to usher another back in so soon. So I wish him well. I feel like an Arsenal fan seeing Van Persie score for United. I remember the good things he did for us, and the memories no Liverpool fan will ever forget. But if he fails to reach those heights in his short tenure in the land of plastic flags and revolving doors, I won’t shed a tear.
Only 3 weeks ago, Liverpool were humbled by Brendan Rodgers’ ex side. It may have only been the League Cup, but Liverpool were the holders. And it did still sting to go out by being effectively played off the park, by a team largely prepared for the task by our own manager. Though such additions as the mercurial Michu have certainly kept Swansea moving forward. Again we will compare our on song front-man with the prolific Spanish midfielder later.
Certainly the team to face Swansea on Sunday will differ greatly from the team that had to bring on Gerrard and Suarez to salvage even a consolation goal in the league cup. Reina is likely to continue his return on the back of a much-needed Anfield clean sheet against Wigan instead of the capable Jones. Coates, Carragher, Robinson, Downing, Assaidi and Yesil are unlikely to play anything other than cameo roles, if that.
This will be a truer test of which side plays the Rodgers way better.
There are many similarities in the early season form of the two teams. Swansea are only a single point ahead of the Reds, one position higher in the table and one goal better goal difference. Laudrup has certainly not dropped the ball ably passed by Rodgers at the end of last season. Liverpool can cite games against Manchester United and Manchester City when we didn’t get what we deserved from our positive play. Liverpool’s current league win percentage is 25% as compared to Swansea’s 33.3%. But failure to turn draws to wins has been raised against Liverpool in the past and already we have drawn too many games, with a draw percentage of 50% compared to 33.3% for Swansea.
After the debacle of transfer deadline day and Liverpool’s very public failure to get their target strikers (Dempsey and Sturridge depending which source you read), converting draws to wins is key. In fact this is something that Rodgers should be very wary of, as his draw percentage with Swansea was higher than Kenny’s with Liverpool, at almost 29% last season. Rodgers needs to ensure that these 2 closely matched clubs don’t finish the game with nothing between them.
Both teams have star men to watch out for. Suarez has gone from the ignominy of last season’s ban to being the Premier League’s top scorer. We know what he is – and this season he is clinical. Following an excellent through ball from Enrique against Wigan, the single deft touch to take the ball past Al Habsi was a joy to behold. In 2011/12 saw him bamboozle a Manchester United defence twisting this way and that beating 3 united players, only to need Dirk Kuyt to shepherd the ball over the line from point blank range. This season he hasn’t dropped his workrate but is doing the finishing himself.
If Suarez has been one of the highlights of the season for the Reds then Michu has been the revelation for The Swans. Seldom can a team said to have spent £2million wiser than when Swansea bought Michu from Rayo Vallecano. And who said the credit crunch was no good for anyone?
He is only 3 goals behind Suarez and may not shoot as often – once every 39 minutes as opposed to every 19 minutes, but his conversion rate is much better than Luis’ at 27%. But when you scratch beneath the surface you can see that Suarez is the fulcrum of all good things that happen at Liverpool. 102 dribbles versus Michu’s 10 says its own story. But undoubtedly the Spaniard will feature in Rodgers pre match preparation as at 6ft 1 his aerial threat is greater than that of Suarez, scoring 4 of his goals with his head. Luis has managed 2 with his head but when he has the ball at his feet is when you can physically see opposition defenders dread the inevitable nutmeg.
Across the pitch, Swansea have a wider range of goal threat and that is potentially our weakness. As one stat stated, 71% of all goals Liverpool have scored this season have involved Luis Suarez. So the risk is, nullify him and you nullify the reds. 5 players including Suarez have produced goals this season whereas Swansea’s goals have been spread around 8 players. But again the centre of attention and centre of goals is one person.
In terms of ball possession Joe Allen is top of the shop in the premier league, winning possession 108 times this season, more than any other premier league player. Certainly Allen has been a quiet but effective addition to the Liverpool team. The one who most frequently connects up the play and he is tenacious in the tackle despite almost universally being towered over by his opponent. It will be interesting to see where Rodgers puts Lucas Leiva in the side upon his imminent return, as both players occupy the same space and do much of the breaking down. Lucas I think adds more to the forward play but certainly Allen is no slouch with 82% final third pass completion. This is on the way to comparing to the 84% he had for Swansea last season when undoubtedly he was more of a key figure for the team.
You can ponder the merits of a 28 year old football player writing an autobiography, but certainly Swansea defender and captain Ashley Williams’ book has been making the headlines. Unfortunately, not for its engrossing anecdotes from a very competent defender, but more for the threatening comments and intentions expressed towards Luis Suarez. Undoubtedly water off a very wet ducks back, but a potential flash point that may spoil Williams’ 50th Premier league appearance for Swansea (a record for the club). Whether Williams will prove a match for the player he dislikes so much will be evident at full time on Sunday. But in comparison to Liverpool defensive stalwart Martin Skrtel, he has some ground to make up in terms of performance.
When you add in Angel Rangel and Daniel Agger to compare both sides’ best defenders then the Liverpool pair again come out on top in almost every department. Probably the only surprising number is Daniel Agger’s tackle success of 57.14%. In fact last season it only peaked at 65.63% success as compared to Skrtel’s 75.44%. Going forward is where Agger’s strength lies; completing 80% of his offensive passes. Daniel Agger is reminiscent of a Danish Hansen when bringing the ball out of defence, with a bullet shot in his boot.
Liverpool are on a 7 match unbeaten run. But their performances against Swansea have not been good by anyone’s standards. If Liverpool are to progress they need to beat Swansea at their own game and provide penetration in the last third to complement the pass and move.
Ignoring the usual suspects of Michu and Suarez, both clubs have players that can drag a fan to the edge of their seat and their team to 3 points. Raheem Sterling for Liverpool has shown glimpses of his potential and what his pace and vision can do to inspire. His acceleration onto a misplaced back-pass against Wigan inspired what was a much needed, but in the end comfortable victory.
Dyer did much the same to rescue a point for Swansea against Southampton, taking advantage of a poorly controlled pass to score. Again sharpness and quick thinking paid off.
On Valentines day in 2011 Raheem Sterling scored 5 goals against Southend. The level he has stepped up to now is significantly more challenging than the FA Youth Cup though. He has proven himself to be resilient in the tackle (87.5% tackle success) and for such a young man has shown an ability to hold the ball up when under pressure which is both incredibly promising and creditable. But it is that ability to put the ball in the back of the net Liverpool need most at the moment. Short of the January transfer window, someone needs to assist Suarez in getting the goals. Sterling has shown all the signs that he has the tools required. And the inevitable 5th booking for Suarez means we will have to be without him for at least one game soon enough. Dyer has shown he can step up, providing 3 goals and an assist already this season, even from the shadow of Michu. Sterling needs to do likewise. Dyer shoots every 51 mins of playing time. Sterling shoots every 96 mins of playing time. As Luis Suarez ably displays, you have to buy a ticket to win the lottery and Raheem certainly has shown he can find the goal in the past.
It will be a fascinating game, with two so evenly matched sides. The Liverpool fan in me almost hates to say how similarly the two sides line up. In 2005 Swansea were getting promotion from the third division. In 2005 Liverpool were winning the greatest Champions League Victory in living memory.
Both teams are striving to play attractive football with balls to feet. Both have a standout goal scorer currently on form. Both have managers that are trying to stamp their own imprint on someone else side. Both sides are great at keeping the ball. I for one am hoping Liverpool give the ball away on 2 or 3 occasions at least on Sunday. To Michel Vorm. Just before he picks the ball out of the back of his net. YNWA
All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) Check out our new Top Stats feature on the Stats Centre which allows you to compare all players in the league & read about new additions to the stats centre.