FULLTIME AT ANFIELD: REDS ROTTEN FORM WORSENS AS SWANSEA SNATCHES VICTORY
For any title contender, January is usually the breakaway month; while other teams are slightly overwhelmed by the closeness of fixtures over the three domestic majors (EPL, FA CUP, & EFL) in addition to players renegotiating and a buzzing January transfer market that could make any unfocused side’s head spin. But definitely not title contenders with hungry leaders on the pitch, even hungrier and fit players on the bench and a general clarity in their sense of purpose. Such a team, while keeping things neat and tidy in the other two majors, would at a minimum take over 80% of the points on offer in January’s EPL fixtures.
So far it has been a breakaway month for Liverpool as the Reds have seen their proximity to the top decimated into an ever increasing chasm no thanks to deplorable defending, an increasingly static style of football (didn’t the backroom see the remarkable fall of Pep’s tiki-taka?), no sense or creativity going forward, and no one to force the issue real-time on the pitch if the lads are getting stuck in their ways.
The headline “Five Goal Thriller as the Swans Visit Anfield” would, in the first half of the season would have certainly meant a Liverpool drubbing and the Kop celebrating 3 points to keep our campaign on track but not this time. Against a side that was rock bottom on the log one would have thought this game to be an easy put away for Klopp’s men but in recent times our defending although now seeing some very slight improvements, the complacent clue-lessness has apparently crept further up the pitch as our once fiery strikeforce and midfield maestros now go in circles finding it difficult to make any headway be it against a big side like Manchester United or lowly sides like Plymouth or Swansea. Our momentum has taken a serious hit on the back of piss-poor performances and we have now taken it a step further losing to a side we have absolutely no business even drawing with.
And so it went as the hopeful Kop seeing Coutinho and Clyne in the starting lineup believed all would go as planned with the Brazilian pairing with his compatriot upfront alongside Lallana looking to stick it where it hurts in the Swansea backline; Wijnaldum, Henderson, and Emre Can were to form a valiant midfield support with Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, and Milner tasked with keeping things clean at the back covering our goalie, Mignolet.
It was the little things that kept us from finding the back of the net early on in the match as notable attempts went begging as the lads kept going for the spectacular, typical case of over-confidence and a false sense of urgency when calmer heads should have seen us hit that auld onion bag two or three times in the first half. Swansea came closest to scoring as an out-of-the-blue low strike from Carroll beat Mignolet at his near-post but the woodwork saved his blushes keeping the effort out.
The Reds dominated possession in the opening stanza but all that ball time resulted in nothing as the half ended bleakly with both teams even at nil with the Swans doing a tremendous job drowning our attacks in a sea of white shirts as almost all their starters got behind the ball to keep Liverpool reaching for a bit much just to hit the target.
All the action came fast in the second half with the Swans catching us off-guard 3 minutes into the restart with Naughton doing a Sadio Mane type dart into the area and forcing an unsure clearance off Lovren. The resulting corner saw our defence flailing and all over the place attempting zonal marking for a setpiece. The delivery easily found Fernandez who nodded the ball down to Llorente for an easy toe-poke into our net. With that the Swans seemed to push higher making it more difficult for Liverpool to make any meaningful build-up past the center circle.
In order to force the issue, the lads once again went for too much, pushing forward recklessly and Swansea in what was to be their next attempt on target caught us on the break. Once again, Carroll was at the center of proceedings as he beat us for pace getting into a wonderful position before sending in a brilliant cross that found Llorente who headed downwards beating Mignolet easily and getting his and Swansea’s second.
With the Reds now needing 3 goals to get all the points a renewed sense of urgency took over the home side as their build-ups got the Swans on the back foot allowing us to venture at will into their final third. It took just three minutes of such purposeful attacking to bear fruit as Milner found some space on the left wing to whip in an immaculate cross into the middle of the penalty area finding a high rising Firmino who sent a bullet header past Fabianski and into the bottom left-hand corner to make it 2-1.
A Sturridge substitution (on for Coutinho) seemed to make some impact on the game as more creative options opened up to cause Swansea problems and keep the tempo high enough for a complete comeback. Just 12 minutes after, Sturridge giving the visitors’ defense a lot to think about got some space for Wijnaldum to run through at the left wing skipping past Fernandez easily before sending a looping cross into the box, finding Firmino who controlled it beautifully before rifling his attempt into the bottom left-hand corner for the equalizer.
Divock Origi has previously been guilty of having a slower read on the game and defenders’ positioning and today was no different as our Belgian squandered what should have been the final blow to shatter the visitors. Lovren pushed past enemy lines and immediately sent a bouncing cross over to the far post but Origi’s poor sense of positioning and alertness came to the fore again as the substitute was caught flat-footed and unable to get a shot away from close range.
Our Belgian wasn’t done with his disappointing performance as he failed to pick out a red shirt with his downward header from a neatly worked cross from Lallana, the Englishman pulling a bit of impressive trickery before sending his cross in.
Another rare foray into our half saw the Swans putting together a meaningful attack with Carroll once again being the ever present thorn in our side as he pushed his way towards our box but is overwhelmed by our defense not a successful attack but he made us look and an unfocused Klavan with nothing to do but clear the ball away mishits his clearance and as slippy-esque fortunes would have it, it rolled over to Sigurdsson, who calmly slots his effort past Mignolet.
And so it stayed as Liverpool’s attacks after that goal looked increasingly bereft of ideas handing over the win to the grateful visitors who stayed resolute in defense determined to see the game out to get them out of the relegation zone and relegating us to battle for a top four slot instead of the title.
Man of the Match