Liverpool 5, Swansea 0: Boxing Day Knockdown
Continuing to vacillate between the hugely impressive and the outrageously frustrating, Liverpool follow up their 3-3 draw at the weekend with an absolute thumping of an overmatched Swansea side.
Jürgen Klopp continued his newly-adopted rotation policy for this one, allowing Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren a rest, while bringing Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joël Matip into the backline. Georginio Wijnaldum was given a start in place of the injured captain Jordan Henderson, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced Sadio Mané.
An early lead is often considered a crucial element in defeating conservative sides at home, and as such, the Reds couldn’t have asked for a better start. Six minutes into the match, Roberto Firmino snatched the ball in typical fashion off an inattentive Swansea midfielder, laid it off to Mohamed Salah, who found Philippe Coutinho. The captain for the day took a touch to set himself, before bending the ball into the far top corner from 20-odd yards out, setting the Reds on a path from which they wouldn’t deviate with a stunning strike.
Swansea made an effort at the other end a few minutes later, as a from the right cross went unchallenged and Jordan Ayew rose above Alexander-Arnold at the back post, but the header was calmly collected by Simon Mignolet. The hosts went right back into siege mode, and a delicious piece of interplay between Firmino, Coutinho and Salah ended in a cutback to Andrew Robertson, who blasted over from 18 yards.
The thirty minutes that followed assumed a familiar pattern; Liverpool passing and probing around a well-manned Swansea box, while the visitors were too determined to get broken down, yet too conservative to create anything of substance by themselves. Oxlade-Chamberlain, Emre Can and Firmino all had speculative efforts from distance go high or wide, and Salah dragged a shot off target when in some space down the right, but the dramatic moments were few and far between, with both sides waiting for the other to make a mistake, rather than press the action.
The waiting game nearly paid off for the Swansea in the 38th minute, as another unchallenged cross caused havoc in the Reds’ box, but Oliver McBurnie’s effort was well blocked, before Kyle Naughton fumbled the rebound out of touch. There were shouts for a penalty a few minutes from time as Salah went down in the box with a Firmino cross sailing overhead, but the replay revealed that nothing untoward had occurred.
In injury time, Firmino was released by Salah and raced clear of his marker. An ill-advised shot feint and an equally slapdash finish saw the ball dribble clear of the near post, when better options were available at the back post. Echoes of leads dropped after missed chances rang through the minds of cynical fans everywhere.
With points dropped from leading positions in two of the last four, one could be forgiven for expecting the worst as the second half began. The Brazilian duo allayed those fears after seven minutes. A gorgeous lobbed free kick from Coutinho fell onto Firmino’s boot and from three yards out, Liverpool’s number nine expertly tucked the ball home past a hesitant Lukasz Fabianski.
Five minutes later, another Coutinho free kick found a target, as a genius low horizontal cross gave Salah the opportunity from twelve yards out, but the Egyptian’s volley snuck past the far post. The Reds’ top scorer had another chance a minute later, when Robertson found his streaking run with a delightful through ball, but one on one with the Polish goalkeeper, Salah failed to convert from close range.
The hosts weren’t letting their guests off the hook, however, and with 25 minutes to go, they were 3-0 up. A Robertson cross was only half-cleared by the defense, and Alexander-Arnold raced past his man to reach the ball first, slamming it in off the underside of the bar on the half-volley. It was the 18-year old’s third goal of the campaign, his first ever in the Premier League, and the celebrations matched the achievement.
There was barely time for fans to take a seat before the Reds snatched another. Mohamed Salah latched onto a wayward backpass and broke into the area, before slipping a cutback across the box for Firmino to score his second of the night. When failing to score, the Egyptian turned provider, adding his fourth and fifth assist to his already impressive 15-goal tally.
The game won, substitutions were immediately made, as Dominic Solanke and Adam Lallanareplaced Firmino and Salah, while James Milner replaced Robertson a few minutes later. The match slowed considerably, and neither team would produce anything of note until the final ten minutes. The ball ping-ponged around the Swansea box for a bit, and Oxlade-Chamberlain showed great desire to keep the play alive. A shot from Alexander-Arnold was blocked, but Oxlade-Chamberlain pounced on the rebound and took a touch with his knee, before deftly lobbing the ball over Fabianski and into the far corner with a quietly impressive finish.
Solanke would have a pair of chances to further run up the score, first missing a glorious chance from a few yards out after a Milner cross, before making clean contact on the volley from a Coutinho chip, but neither effort was rewarded with a goal.
The Reds once more make you think they’ve turned a corner, turning in an absolute hammering immediately following a return to frustrating form. Now undefeated in the last 14 matches, Klopp’s men have still dropped six points from a winning positions, making their fourth place position equal parts admirable and aggravating, as holding on to those six points would’ve seen them led only by Pep Guardiola’s historic Manchester City side.
The goals keep flowing, and the fabulous front four have now managed a stunning 56 goals between them in all competitions, averaging a goal every 31.4 minutes of action. Evening those goals out a little and turning some draws into wins would go a long way towards pushing this team up the table, but with the performances they’re putting in, it’s hard to argue that they don’t possess the potential to do something special.
A four-day rest coming up now, before Leicester, Burnley and an FA Cup clash with Evertontake place over the course of six days. The squad has maintained its health better than in previous years under the current regime, which hopefully lays the groundwork for a more consistent and successful start to the new year.