Liverpool pulled off another rollercoaster, heart-stopping victory, with their scintillating attack eventually sparing the blushes of the calamitous defence.
There were many reunions and familiar faces for both clubs in this game, and the hunger for victory was very much alive. Liverpool couldn’t exercise their control after taking a 2-0 lead and Swansea persisted and took the game to them. It took a stand-out performance from Jordan Henderson to rescue the points for the Reds, while the introduction of Joe Allen on the hour was also a significant factor.
Rodgers went with familiarity, system-wise, sticking with his usual front six deployed in the same fashion as we have discussed before. The back four saw some changes, with Glen Johnson returning from injury. This was not enough to dislodge Flanagan from the right-back spot he is making his own – Johnson replaced Aly Cissokho at left-back. Daniel Agger also came back into the side to start alongside his old partner Martin Skrtel.
The midfield three was designed to press hard, with the energy of Henderson and Coutinho ahead of Gerrard, who would look to initiate attacks from deep. Brendan Rodgers has recently spoke of the work he has done with Jordan Henderson, relating his objectives to matching the type of runs Frank Lampard has made a career from – bursting runs to arrive late into the box from midfield.
Garry Monk started Jonjo Shelvey in the attacking central midfield role against his old club, supported by Jonathan De Guzman attacking from deep and a recognised holder in Leon Britton. The defensive two would need to deal with pressure from Coutinho and Henderson, while Shelvey matched up against his old mentor Steven Gerrard.
Despite Liverpool’s early lead, Swansea were perhaps the better side in the opening half hour. The Reds looked shaky at the back, and each Swansea attack saw Shelvey with far too much room to attack the back four:
One area where Gerrard has excelled in the deep role, is getting out into the wide areas to provide cover. Against Swansea however, he was frequently getting caught out by Shelvey. Whenever Gerrard moved out wide to cover, Shelvey could exploit the spaces to the side of him and travel forwards – he attacked the back four unopposed on a few occasions in the first half before coming off injured at half-time.
With the game now far more riskily poised for Liverpool, there was suddenly everything to gain for Swansea if they could maintain their attacking threat, and capitalise on mistakes.
Jose Canas came on in place of Shelvey and went alongside Britton, while De Guzman was moved up into the attacking midfield role. Despite this being a ‘number 10’ position, De Guzman is not a number 10 and instead tried to get as close to Wilfried Bony as possible, playing more similarly to a withdrawn striker.
Here we see him up and tight with Bony to screen Liverpool’s passes across the back line, while Canas and Britton hold their positions behind, prepared to press onto Henderson and Coutinho. This allows Dyer and Routledge to forget about Skrtel and Agger and isolate their full backs, as you can see in the top right.
It made Swansea harder to break down in the second half, and it became apparent that it was going to be either a moment of inspiration from a player in red (and a Liverpool win), or a moment of madness at the back from a player in red (and a Swansea win).
Thankfully for Brendan Rodgers, it was Jordan Henderson who made the bold run from deep. You can see how early he spots his opportunity:
The ball is in mid-air travelling to Suarez when Henderson first makes his run, and he capitalises on the positioning of Neil Taylor (bottom right corner of the picture). In the case of Swansea, this is the reason managers are so insistent on their full backs getting back and tight into their bank of four quicker in the modern game – because as this situation develops, it becomes completely preventable if Taylor had got back in earlier:
Henderson gets ahead in the foot-race before Taylor can get back in position, and pounces on the two loose balls which fall into his path, sealing the win for the Reds.
The game was probably as would be expected statistically. Liverpool shaded possession with 53.5% and 438 accurate passes to Swansea’s 358, relatively high from both teams. Liverpool were slightly more accurate with 84% to Swansea’s 81%, and also in the final third with 68% to 59% for the Swans.
Liverpool created more chances with 19 to Swansea’s 11, while 4 of these were also clear cut-chances, of which Liverpool converted an impressive 3. The teams were also evenly matched in other areas. For crosses there were only 8 and 9 respectively, both sides preferring to play through the middle if possible. Liverpool dribbled more with 15 successful to Swansea’s 6, but they were on par again with 35 successful tackles and interceptions for Rodgers’ men, and 37 for Swansea.
For Liverpool to remain in the title ‘conversation’ it became a necessity that they win this game. A crucial home game against mid-table opposition, going into three away fixtures (including a visit to Old Trafford). Sealing the three points ensured that all of the top four won, however Everton and Tottenham both losing has strengthened Liverpool’s position in 4th.
They remain 4 points off the pace and Rodgers may be beginning to curse his defensive luck. The ever-increasing catalogue of individual errors is having a remarkable overall effect on Liverpool’s season, and it will certainly be the area where Rodgers will be desperate for a rapid and long-term solution.
For now the race continues, as they sit 1 point behind Manchester City (who have a game in hand) and have three of the top five yet to visit Anfield. Another near-scare, but a valuable three points from a spirited and competitive Swansea.