While leagues across Europe are holidaying for the winter, the English Premier League enters one of the most gruelling parts of its schedule. As if five game days in 23 days were not tough enough, the schedule has thrown in three more game days in the next 8 days. The first of these three gamedays falls on Boxing day for Liverpool and Swansea – two teams, who are seemingly very different but in a couple of ways are very similar. Liverpool, fourth with 35 points in half a season are very different from their Welsh visitors who are 20th with just 13 points. But to satisfy their fanbase, both the teams have to ensure they do not drop any further in the table. In fact, both must progress a bit higher in the table – Swansea for the obvious reasons to at least 17th, and Liverpool to at least a couple of positions above. A failure to achieve this progress will be a disappointment in the eyes of both sets of fans.
Liverpool have had a mixed bag of a first half of the season. Two big away losses to Manchester City and Tottenham have not hurt them as much as the points they have dropped from winning positions. They come into the Boxing Day match having again snatched a draw from the jaws of a fairly certain victory against Arsenal. That result from Friday’s match must rankle with the Reds as just five minutes of crazy error-prone football let them down. The result, however, kept their unbeaten streak on and they are now 13 games unbeaten in all competitions. Jurgen Klopp’s men must be itching to get back to winning ways, especially against the bottom team in the league, at home. But they must avoid complacency at all costs, as they are hosting a team that beat them in the exact same fixture last season.
This season, Swansea are a bit worse off as compared to the side that beat the Reds at Anfield in January 2017. In fact, a trip to Anfield could not have come at a worse time for the Swans as they have just sacked their manager Paul Clement and are led by player-manager Leon Britton on a temporary basis. In their last game, they managed to salvage a draw against Crystal Palace, but they will need much more than just draws to ensure they escape relegation for the third straight year, after being in the relegation zone at Christmas. It is unlikely that their great escape this season will begin in Merseyside, but a spirited performance against the rampaging Reds can give some confidence boost to the Swans. They must remember that they are one of only two sides in 2017 to have beaten Liverpool at Anfield in the league.
- Historically, in all competitions, Liverpool have played Swansea 41 times having won 22, lost 11, and drawn 8. In Premier League, they have played 12 times, winning 6, losing 3, and drawing 3. The Swans have won two of their last three games with Reds, having lost six and drawn two of the previous eight.
- The victory in January 2017, was Swansea’s first league win at Anfield in 16 league visits (D3, L12). Matches between these two sides have yielded a lot of goals – at least recently. After the first three Premier League games between them produced only three goals, the following nine have had 35 scored – 22 by Liverpool and 13 by Swansea.
- Boxing Day has been lucky for the Reds. Liverpool have not lost a home league game on the Boxing Day since 1986 – winning 7 and drawing 3. For Swansea, the day has been equally unfortunate in the past. They have not won away in four attempts since beating Crewe in League One in 2006.
- 11 of 18 sides who have been in the relegation zone at Christmas have gone down eventually. However, Swansea have managed to escape this fate in the last two seasons despite being in the drop zone in December end.
Jurgen Klopp’s “Fab Four” have been churning out goals on a regular basis and the German’s smart rotation this season has led all of them to have been reasonably rested in between fixtures. Each of them brings their unique qualities to the pitch and against what is expectedly going to be a deep defensive block from Swansea, we can expect Coutinho to play the key role. He is an excellent shooter from distance, which could be one way to negate the crowded box that Swansea are likely to create. His intelligence and vision can also help to unlock the Swans’ defence and create chances for forwards such as Salah and Firmino. xG per 90 of 0.30 and expected Assists per 90 of 0.38 means that Coutinho has a 68% chance of contributing a goal every 90 minutes. He scored his sixth league goal of the season, with an uncharacteristic header against Arsenal on Friday and will be high on confidence on Tuesday as well.
For a team that has scored just 11 goals in 19 matches so far, the key player has to be the only player who poses any sort of threat to the opponents. That player, for Swansea, is Tammy Abraham. Swansea’s only hope on Tuesday evening is to hit Liverpool on the counter and induce errors through pace. Tammy has the pace and skill to pose such a threat. His xG per 90 and xA per 90 are 0.36 and 0.07 respectively, which means that he has a 43% chance of contributing a goal per 90 minutes.
For Liverpool, Jordan Henderson is sidelined due to the hamstring injury he sustained in the first half against Arsenal, while Joel Matip who could not be match fit for the Gunners might be fit to face Swansea. Klopp might stick to his rotation policy and rotate out Sadio Mane, possibly to bring in Adam Lallana or to start with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Joe Gomez might also be rotated out to bring in Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Leroy Fer and Ki Sung-Yeung are both doubtful for the Liverpool game as their injuries need to be assessed before including them in the squad. Kyle Naughton suffered a groin injury on Saturday, which will mean a start for Angel Rangel. Jordan Ayew might also get a starting spot after his goal secured the draw on Saturday. Interim player-manager Britton himself is out due to injury but is likely to rotate his squad slightly to keep them fit for the gruelling fixtures that await.
Although Swansea have caused some trouble for the Reds in recent past, this match is being played in different circumstances. For all of Swansea’s verve and Liverpool’s defensive errors, the Swans do not possess an attack to pose a threat to Liverpool and few defences in the league have managed to keep the Reds out of their net for long. The wide gap in quality between the two sides should be enough for Liverpool to win this game easily.
Liverpool 3 – 0 Swansea