Swansea City 1 – Liverpool 2: Match Review

The Hull match last weekend was supposed to be a stern test of Liverpool’s title credentials. A home game against a team that likes to sit deep and defend is exactly the sort of match that has occasionally proven to be a banana skin in the past. In truth, though, it’s the away matches that have always been a tad trickier – Watford, Newcastle and Swansea City all beat us last season and Burnley have managed it this time around.

Optimism was swirling around the Liverpool fan base ahead of our trip to The Liberty Stadium. Francesco Guidolin said in the week that he felt his job was at risk if the Swans didn’t get the win and Jürgen Klopp’s rampant Reds have taken on all-comers in recent weeks. But would we be able to maintain our momentum and get four Premier League wins on the bounce for the first time under the German? Or would a trip to South Wales prove fruitless, as it did last year?

Winning Ugly

Let’s be honest, Liverpool were pretty dire in the first-half. Swansea came out and pressed the Reds in the same manner as they had against Man City last weekend and yet it somehow seemed to take us by surprise that they were up for the fight. I feared that that age old Liverpool problem was once again going to rear its ugly head: Complacency against the smaller teams that we ‘should’ beat easily.

If you are a team that believes you should be winning leagues or, at the very least, challenging for them then these are the sorts of games you have to get something out of. It’s not just winning away from home but winning when you’re not playing well. It’s about playing like drains for 45 minutes but turning it around and coming away with three points. You feel as though the team will have learnt more from that match than any of the high-scoring victories that we’ve pulled off recently.

I was genuinely worried at half-time that we were going to drop three points and have to spend the next two and a half weeks before the home game against United ruminating on it. Klopp said before the game against Hull that he wanted his team to be angry; that Hull had their three points and we should go and get them back. We played the first-half at the Liberty as though someone had given us some pills to calm us down and they hadn’t worn off. The play was slow, ponderous and unintelligent.

Thankfully this is not a team or a manager that accepts its fate. We’ve learnt time and time again that Klopp’s Liverpool will not lay down and die if it can help it. Nothing taught us that more than the comeback against Dortmund in the Europa League. This match didn’t have anywhere near the same level of significance, importance or even response to the game against the manager’s old side; yet we came back into it when we needed to and stepped up through the gears enough to take all three points – something that could well prove to be crucial in May.

Klopp certainly must have challenged his anger at half-time because the Reds were like a different side after the break. No more slow play, no more misplaced passes; just a determination to get the goal that would get us back into the game. It always felt as though the second goal in the match would be crucial. If Swansea had gone 2-0 up it would have been another Burnley, whilst if the Reds could get it then you could only see one team winning it.

It’s brilliant to play the sort of football we’ve been playing in recent weeks. Putting four or five goals past anyone will fill you with confidence and it will also make other teams sit up and taker notice. However there’s no question that today’s result will give these players the important knowledge that they can beat teams even if they’re having a bad day – something we haven’t always done in the past.

Our Kingdom For A Clean Sheet

Liverpool have now conceded in all seven of their Premier League matches so far this season. We have got away with it because we’ve won five and drawn one of them, but at some point it would be nice to see us defend well enough to stop the opposition from scoring. Swansea’s style of play is better than their league position suggests, but their goal came from nothing and really should never have been allowed to happen.

When you play with the expansive, attacking style that Liverpool have developed under Klopp it is inevitable that the opposition will have chances. That is something that you have to accept if you’re keen to see huge numbers of players pour up the pitch in an attempt to put the ball into the back of the net. It isn’t a style of play that is to everyone’s taste, with many preferring the more conservative game plan that Rafa Benitez specialised in.

Personally, I’m a big fan of attacking football. 2013-2014 was the best season I’ve watched in my adult life. It was non-stop entertainment and we always looked likely to outscore the opposition. The big difference compared to then and now is the manner of goals we conceded. Back then we were often hit on the counter-attack, our defenders and goalkeeper left stranded by a midfield that was nowhere to be seen.

That doesn’t happen all that often under Klopp. We aren’t punished by open play, with the likes of Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana quick to close down opposition attacks and help out the defence as best they can. We’ve still conceded some goals from open play, of course; most notably against Burnley and Spurs. The biggest issue we’re having under Jürgen Klopp is the conceding of outrageously stupid goals, most notably from set-pieces. Time and time again we look so incredibly vulnerable when we give away corners or free-kicks. It doesn’t seem to matter who is in defence or who is in goal, the other team knows they’ve got a chance if they put a high ball in.

I remain convinced that the main reason we struggle to defend set-pieces is that we don’t know how to take them. Andrew Beasley’s stat regarding the Reds having had 23 corners in the last two games and failing to score from any of them whilst also conceding two goals from five that we’ve faced is astonishing. If I were an opposition manager I would instruct my defence to give away as many corners as it wanted to because Liverpool can’t score from them. In fact, more often than not we look more likely to concede from our own corner than to put it in the back of the net.

Given that Klopp is a former defender I’m confident that he’ll sort things out. It’s worth bearing in mind that today was the first time that Liverpool have played with what you assume to be the manager’s first-choice back five of Karius, Clyne, Lovren, Matip and Milner. Defences need time to adjust to each other’s style of play and to work alongside each other. The more that they play together the more that they’ll know what they should be doing. For now it is, admittedly, difficult to watch but I’m convinced that it will come good with time. If we have pretensions for the title then it will have to.

A Quick Word On The ‘Keeper

Loris Karius will have better games in a Red shirt than he did today. Given he arrived with a reputation for being strong on the ball he played some terrible passes and looked decidedly shaky at times. He didn’t come for crosses that looked as though they should be his for the taking and even flapped at a corner. It was not the sort of performance that fills anyone with confidence and it did not help Jürgen Klopp decide outright who should be our number one versus Manchester United.

More than a few Liverpool fans suggested that Simon Mignolet would have been slaughtered for exactly the same performance and they would be right. The trouble is that we often get exactly that performance from Mignolet despite the fact that he’s been with the club for three years, so should Karius be hung out to dry when he’s under-performed in just his third game? Not for me.

Mignolet has been dodgy consistently ever since he arrived in 2013. He has been given more than enough opportunities to prove that he has what it takes and he’s been found wanting time and time again. Karius wasn’t even tested against Derby County or Hull so he’s not yet had a decent experience of life in England for a goalkeeper. The only real question is whether he learns from what happened today or continues to make the same mistakes.

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

He was one of the best goalkeepers in Germany last season and produced some outstanding performances for Mainz. There’s a reason that he’s so highly rated so now is the time to stick with him and see how he does. Writing him off after just three games is ludicrous and the sort of mistake we’ve made repeatedly as a fan base, from Lucas to Henderson to Divock Origi. Time will tell if he’s the right man for the job but one poor game when the whole team was out of sorts tells us nothing much at all.

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