Swansea City 1 – Liverpool 0: Match Review & Analysis

Is it just me or does it feel like ages since we’ve watched the Red play? The win over City was glorious, so in many ways it’s right that we’ve been allowed to bask in that for that the last week or so. Yet it was also such a joyous occasion that I wanted to watch us again straight away. Like when you go to a theme park and enjoy a ride so much that you want to get straight back on it, the thrills and spills of our match against the league leaders were so enjoyable that I was ready to repeat it as soon as possible. I’m not one of the players, of course, who have probably been quite grateful for a week off in order to rest their weary bones. The big question for Jürgen Klopp and his backroom staff is whether or not the players will still be on such a high from beating Pep Guardiola’s men that they struggle to focus against Swansea City.

The Reds smashed five past the Swans at Anfield on Boxing Day, with even Trent Alexander-Arnold getting on the scoresheet. The manager will have been thinking hard about how to avoid complacency, however, with now being a perfect opportunity to put some breathing room between us and both Arsenal and Tottenham. The Gunners looked impressive without the departing Alexis Sanchez when they beat a woeful Crystal Palace team 4-1 at the weekend, whilst Spurs haven’t looked al that impressive all season. A 1-1 draw away at Southampton meant that a win for us at The Liberty Stadium would put us five points clear of the North Londoners and eight away from the Gunners. That isn’t insurmountable, but it would certainly be a comfortable position to be in heading towards the second-half of the campaign. Would this be a repeat of the Anfield walkover, then, or would Carlos Carvalhal’s men be able to do what only Man City and Spurs have done so far this season and take three points off us?

The Bench Looks Weak

I’m not necessarily one of those people that thinks we desperately need to go out and spend money willy nilly now we’ve lost Philippe Coutinho. I also think that the argument that the club ‘should have had a plan’ doesn’t hold much water, given that Jürgen Klopp isn’t the sort of manager to not have thought ahead. He didn’t want the Brazilian at the club any more and felt that keeping him would be detrimental to the side. Yet there’s no argument that the Liverpool substitute’s bench looked decidedly weak heading into this game.

Danny Ings hasn’t played ninety minutes in a meaningful game of football for the best part of two years, whilst James Milner just looks like he hasn’t. I’m still confident that Dominic Solanke will turn into a decent option in the future, but the youngster hasn’t scored a senior goal yet. Trent Alexander-Arnold is an exceptional talent, yet he’s hardly the sort of player you’re going to turn to to get you a goal from the bench. Likewise Ragnar Klavan is hardly a game-changer, which leaves just Adam Lallana who could genuinely turn the game if he was at full fitness. Sadly he isn’t, which is why he was on the bench in the first place.

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If the manager is adamant that he’s not going to turn to the transfer market to brighten up his team then I’m fine with that, believe it or not. I think a manager should, above all else, be true to themselves. The problem is that it’s not as if we’ve got loads of players on the physio’s bench that will make us look really strong when they come back into the fray. I’m as massive Jordan Henderson fan, but he’s not a player I would look to to turn things in our favour as a sub. Likewise if the club captain was on the pitch then it would be one of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gini Wijnaldum or Emre Can on the bench instead. None of them match winners.

All of which begs the question, what’s Klopp’s plan if we pick up an injury to one of our key players? Should Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah or Roberto Firmino pick up an injury, who comes in to replace them? I’m reasonably convinced that the entire stance of the club regarding acquisitions is little more than a negotiating tactic. We can all see the weakness, so the manager must be able to too. With Champions League, FA Cup and, of course, plenty of Premier League games still to play, why on earth would a manager with Klopp’s experience willingly leave us so short? He’s either seeing something from the likes of Ings and Solanke in training that’s convinced him we’ll be ok, or else there’s something in the pipeline that will sort us out nicely.

When Playing A Low Block, Everyone Must Be On Their Game

When you’re playing a team like Swansea, in their home ground, you know that you’ll be up against a low block. They had no desire to come out and attack us before they got their goal, so once they went one up it was even more clear what their tactic would be. That’s fine, it’s an entirely legitimate way to play football. Liverpool’s job, as it has been all season, is to figure out how to find a way through. One of the ways, that they adopted tonight, was to play ‘eye of the needle football’. The issue, as we discovered to our detriment over the first hour, is that everyone needs to be on their game if you’re going to pull that off.

Passing needs to be sharp, control needs to be tight and when you get the chances you need to take them. Both Salah and Mané were guilty of missing good chances in the first-half, when really they should have done better. You wouldn’t call either chance guilt-edged, but they were the sort of opportunities that you absolutely have to take when playing a club that aren’t going to give you very many. Speaking in his press conference on Friday, Jürgen Klopp suggested that he wouldn’t need to do anything to guard against complacency. Yet the first-half stank of eleven players in Red who seemed to think that they only needed to turn up at the team sitting bottom of the table to earn all three points. Nobody was in form.

Not Even van Dijk Can Solve All Defensive Problems

Liverpool spent all of the summer chasing Virgil van Dijk. It was obvious what he’d be able to bring to the team, yet anyone who knows anything about football continuously said that he alone wouldn’t be able to fix our problems at the back. The reality is that we don’t actually concede that many chances as a club, but the ones that we do concede tend to end up as goals. The Swansea opened showed exactly why that’s the case, with Alfie Mawson reacting quicker than any of our players to the loose ball in the area. That matter wasn’t helped by van Dijk feeling as though he needed to take matters into his own hands and taking out two of our defensive players at the same time.

Despite the desperate desire of some to blame him just to make it fit their narrative, there was nothing that Loris Karius could have done about the goal. Even so, we really need a goalkeeper that can help van Dijk lead the defence. One who is vocal and can keep on top of his defensive team, making sure that they’re alive to those sorts of situations and dealing with them before they develop into a goal. In terms of both ability and leadership, the former Celtic and Southampton defender is an excellent player. He can’t do it all on his own, though, and for a defender who’s about six foot three, Joel Matip is dreadful in the air. We’re heading in the right direction, but the defence still needs work.

The Stupidity Hasn’t Been Eradicated

For the vast majority of this season, Liverpool have been sensational. Even when we were dropping sloppy points at the start of the season, we were still playing very good football. The result against Manchester City was the culmination of all of the side’s hard work over the last five and a half months. It seemed as if the side’s idiotic decision making had been wiped out and that Jürgen Klopp had instilled them with some nouse and intelligence that they’d been lacking before his arrival. Tonight was proof that they may have made big strides, but this Liverpool team still has the ability to be immensely stupid every now and again.

About five shots in a row came from centre-backs from around thirty-five yards. If it wasn’t Joel Matip having a go from distance then it was Joe Gomez. If it wasn’t Gomez then van Dijk was striking it speculatively. That is so idiotic it’s painful, especially considering there are players in the squad like Mané and Salah who actually have the ability to break down a team like this. It was a game that required patience, but instead we tried to force the issue time and again. The shout of ‘this is when we miss Coutinho’ will undoubtedly go up, given that this is our first loss since he left. Yet it’s an intensely tedious shout, considering he wouldn’t have been able to stop centre-backs being idiots.

Coutinho & Klopp On The Side Of The Kop

Coutinho has also been in the Liverpool team when we’ve lost games very similar to this in the past. Coutinho doesn’t stop Roberto Firmino from missing a header that he scored in ninety-nine out of one hundred other games in exactly the same position. He doesn’t stop our defenders from parting like the Red Sea when the ball dropped in the area for Mawson. This result, combined with the weakness of the bench, should persuade the manager to go and buy another attacking player. Let’s not pretend, however, that we would’ve definitely won tonight if Barcelona hadn’t come calling. It might fit the narrative, but it doesn’t fit the truth.

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