Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool left Swansea City’s Liberty Stadium with more than just three points on Saturday lunchtime, they left with a sense of affirmation that perhaps, just perhaps, talk of them being genuine contenders this season might have some foundation to it. What the Reds showed in their narrow victory was an element of resolve rarely seen over the past few years, but something that is becoming more prevalent under the German’s reign at Anfield.
Liverpool are gradually becoming a team in the image of their boss – animated, energised, exciting and determined. However, Klopp is also an ambitious winner; he has won trophies in his time at Borussia Dortmund and wants to win them again, but whether or not this Liverpool side is capable of the same is yet to be seen and will be the test of both the team and their acclaimed manager.
Liverpool’s recent form has been excellent: from the scintillating desolation of reigning Premier League champions, to an impressive victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and the 5-1 destruction of Hull City. The goals have flowed for the Reds, some of them spectacular, and much of the football has been eye catching – both on and off the ball. Against Swansea though, Liverpool started sloppily and many Kop fans must’ve worried they had another Burnley on their hands when the Reds’ all too familiar problem of defending set pieces struck again with Leroy Fer the beneficiary, to give the hosts an early lead. Liverpool were strangely passive off the ball and equally lacked intensity when in possession. This was not the swashbuckling Liverpool of recent weeks; lacking in movement, they were too static on the ball and whenever the defence or Jordan Henderson in front of them received possession, there was too big a gap between them and the rest of the team. It made it easier for Swansea to press high and they did it very well. In turn, Liverpool became ruffled and disjointed with defenders becoming unsettled and attacking players taken out of the game. Swansea’s game plan was working and their performance in that opening half hour fully warranted their lead that could easily have been extended, but as Swansea gradually moved deeper, Liverpool began to take a footing in the match just before half time.
For all Liverpool weren’t performing, they managed to hang in there until the break, where Klopp likely had a few choice words to say and that was where the game really turned.
Swansea’s impressive thirty minute performance was now a distant memory as Liverpool came out after the break with a renewed vigour; the aggressive sharpness was back and the intensity of recent weeks was back. There was a certain inevitability about the equaliser; Henderson’s speed of thought in smartly crossing in a blocked free kick was equally matched by the well timed run and header from Roberto Firmino.
The hosts were now on the ropes and the flat, static and slovenly start to the game from Liverpool overturned and transformed in a way many of the Premier League’s best teams have been able to do over the years, but something this Liverpool squad have largely struggled to do, especially since the departure of Luis Suarez. The winner eventually came from a calmly taken James Milner penalty, another player who has turned his Anfield career around in an unexpected way – by learning a new position. His transition to left-back may not have been an instantaneous success, but he’s become solid there and Klopp’s tactics allow him to frequently push forward in his natural wide attacking role. It’s almost become a renaissance for Milner, a player that encapsulates this Liverpool team that is becoming greater than the sum of its parts. There are no hyped up established world superstars, despite the tremendous talent that Firmino, Coutinho and Sturridge possess, Liverpool are side about hard work, endeavour, desire and hunger, mixed with talent, promise and a willingness to learn.
The same could be said of Klopp and his much heralded Dortmund side and the suggestions are that Liverpool are beginning to resemble the comparisons. A hard fought win over Swansea proved Klopp’s team do have a resolve to match their other qualities, but a similar first half performance against better opposition than Swansea might have seen them out of the game before the break. So, whilst Klopp will rightly be enthused by the comeback of his team, he will also be wary of the opening thirty minutes against Swansea because, much like the performance against Burnley, it was well below the standards required if Liverpool really are to provide a consistent challenge for trophies this season.