Liverpool hosts the ever-impressive Swansea in the only Premier League fixture this weekend. Liverpool has the chance to end a run of five games without a win in all competitions, and in the process leapfrog both Swansea and West Brom. Swansea, however, can create some daylight between them and their opponents, all the while boosting their confidence ahead of the Capital One Cup Final vs. Bradford
This will be Liverpool’s third match in six days, so changes are to be expected. Martin Kelly and John Flanagan are definitely out, while Sturridge remains a minor doubt after missing the 2-0 loss at the hands of WBA. However, considering his in-eligibility for the midweek Europa League match against Zenit, he is expected to recover in time to start. Liverpool has failed to find the net in their last two games, so Sturridge’s return will be welcomed with open arms. In his four games Sturridge has averaged a goal every 91 minutes, and created 7 chances for his team-mates. Should Sturridge start, expect Suarez to play off the England international.
Coutinho was also ineligible for midweek action, and could thus see his first start in a Liverpool shirt since the transfer in January. Predictably, he will either take the place of Downing or Sterling on the wing. At only 20 years of age, Coutinho had a reasonably successful spell at Espanyol last season, scoring 5 in 16 for a team which struggled greatly in the second part of the season. He is a more direct option to Downing, though not as strong defensively.
Alternatively, Borini or Henderson could also fill into the LW position. Henderson would be best suited to do the defensive duty against Rangel, the most attacking of the Swansea full-backs. Lucas should also return to the starting line-up after being rested after only a substitute appearance midweek. He’ll most likely start next to Gerrard with Allen dropping to the bench.
In defence, Carragher will most likely be given a rest, with Agger and Skrtel expected to rekindle their partnership. This is possibly as much tactical as it is the result of natural physical deterioration of Carragher’s limbs. Swansea is known for their quick movement and speed, combined with a very direct approach away from home (see: vs. Arsenal for the best example). In such a match-up it is more important to have mobility in central defense, making Agger-Skrtel a better fit overall.
Swansea will have to do without Chico, on top of the already-out-for-the-season Neil Taylor. Kyle Bartley will most probably keep his spot in centre defense after an impressive substitute appearance against QPR. Assured on the ball (88% passing accuracy, 38/43 last game), the 21-year-old former Arsenal trainee will slot nicely next to Ashley Williams. While Monk is the other available option, his mobility against the likes of Suarez and Sturridge would come into question.
Britton is fit again, but is unlikely to feature after the impressive performances of de Guzman, Ki, and Routledge last weekend. With this the final game before the Capital One Cup Final versus Bradford, expect Laudrup to field the same eleven which is favourite to bring home the first ever League Cup trophy.
Liverpool has failed to beat any side in the top 10 this season. While impressive performances vs. Man City and Arsenal may mask this problem, the fact nevertheless remain that Liverpool struggles to kill off better opponents. Brendan Rodgers may think this is okay, insofar as he sees the team a work in progress. However, there are certain statistics which he needs to address in order to minimize their losses.
A major concern for Liverpool should be the frequency of defensive errors. At 75 mins per defensive error, they are conceding at least one chance per game to individual error. Both Reina and Skrtel committed grave offences in the two matches vs. Man City, which ultimately cost them four points. So far this season, Liverpool have committed 33 defensive errors. By comparison, the relatively inexperienced (Premier League-wise) side of Swansea have only committed 20.
In the post-match interview after the first Man City game, Rodgers defended Skrtel by pointing out the lack of options available to him. Similarly, last season when Rangel relinquished the ball to Giggs vs. Man United, Rodgers stated it was not Rangel’s fault, but rather a consequence of the way Rodgers asked Swansea to play. Mistakes as the product of playing style only stretch so far, however. Swansea, who play a similar possession-based game against organized defence, have so fewer mistakes the question of personnel becomes more prominent than playing style.
An interesting statistic which may go a long way in order to explain the problems Liverpool has against better teams is Dispossessed. Liverpool players have been dispossessed 359 times to Swansea’s 253. That’s almost 100 times more throughout the course of this season. Swansea is an important comparison, as the argument that Liverpool has more of the ball, and thus greater possibility of being dispossessed, is actually false. Swansea has only completed ~2% fewer passes than Liverpool.
This stat point can have three explanations. Either it points to a fundamental problem in the passing tempo of Liverpool. They don’t move the ball quick enough, thus allowing better opponents the time to get in position to hassle them off the ball. It could also be a bi-product of the choice of passing. Instead of spreading the play, as Swansea are quite adept at doing, Liverpool has a tendency to corner themselves into tight areas, wherein dispossession is more plausible. A third possibility could simply be Suarez’s playing style being more prone to being dispossessed, but this surely cannot account for such a large disparity.
Potential Tactical Pointers
- Expect Swansea to press hard from the halfway and counter quickly. If Johnson and Enrique are caught high up the field, expect the room left to be exploited by Dyer, Routledge, and Pablo.
- If Suarez plays behind Sturridge, watch the time and space de Guzman and Ki will have on the ball. De Guzman has been in great form as of late and when given time and space he can pick a pass, especially on the counter.
- Coutinho vs. Swansea FB to be an interesting battle. If the Brazilian starts on the left-wing, he’ll have his defensive duties challenged by an always-impressive Angel Rangel. The safer option would be to pit Coutinho against Davies and Henderson/Downing on Rangel. Alternatively, position Coutinho behind Sturridge and Suarez wide right.
The Educated Guess
Liverpool: Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique; Gerrard, Lucas; Sterling, Suarez, Coutinho; Sturridge
Swansea: Vorm; Rangel, Bartley, Williams, Davies; Ki, de Guzman; Dyer, Routedge, Pablo; Michu