Sunday 21 January 2018

Battling Swans deliver blow to Reds' title hopes

Liverpool 2 Swansea 3

Fernando Llorente celebrates scoring the first of his two goals against Liverpool. Photo: Ed Sykes/Reuters
Fernando Llorente celebrates scoring the first of his two goals against Liverpool. Photo: Ed Sykes/Reuters

ANFIELD

The run-in for the title has "started already" according to Jurgen Klopp and by those fine margins Liverpool have faltered badly. His team were beaten at home in the Premier League for the first time in over a year as Swansea City delivered an accomplished away display that could impact at both ends of the table. Fernando Llorente struck twice before Gylfi Sigurdsson snatched victory after Roberto Firmino had threatened a personal comeback.

Klopp claimed that Paul Clement had instigated the most marked improvement in a relegation-threatened team he had witnessed despite Swansea losing 4-0 at home to Arsenal last weekend. It was no exaggeration. The south Wales side were controlled and disciplined while Liverpool laboured until falling two goals behind. Firmino wrestled back the game in Liverpool's favour but poor defending let it slip through their grasp and produced a damaging defeat.

Swansea City's Kyle Naughton (left) and Liverpool's Roberto Firmino battle for the ball during the Premier League match at Anfield. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA
Swansea City's Kyle Naughton (left) and Liverpool's Roberto Firmino battle for the ball during the Premier League match at Anfield. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA

Maybe it was the early kick-off or the freezing temperatures, but Liverpool were strangely subdued. Philippe Coutinho offered his customary range of inspired passing on his first Anfield appearance since damaging ankle ligaments against Sunderland in November but even he was running the ball out of play by the end of an unusually slow, cumbersome first half by Liverpool's standards.

Emre Can squandered the game's first opportunity when, after a patient build-up, Jordan Henderson whipped a dangerous cross onto the head of the incoming Germany international. The midfielder got in front of his marker but steered his header well wide of Lukasz Fabianski's goal. Liverpool's only other chance before the interval also stemmed from a fine delivery from the right, when Firmino easily escaped the attentions of Alfie Mawson to reach the by-line and clip the ball over to Adam Lallana. Eight yards out and central, Lallana went for the spectacular but his overhead kick sailed harmlessly over the bar.

Swansea improved in possession as the contest wore on and were unafraid to work their way around Liverpool's pressing game deep inside their own half. There was rarely an outlet for Clement's team from open play, with Llorente isolated against Liverpool's central defenders, and they only ventured forward in numbers at set-pieces. Yet the game-plan was followed tirelessly. Liverpool's defending offered the visitors further encouragement.

Tom Carroll and Martin Olsson both made their debut and the former almost opened the scoring with Swansea's only attack of the first half. From a throw-in, Sigurdsson released the ex-Tottenham midfielder into space in the penalty area and his low shot/cross deflected off Dejan Lovren onto the post, with goalkeeper Simon Mignolet wrong-footed. There would be no reprieve for Liverpool moments after the restart.

Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp urges his players forward. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp urges his players forward. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

Klopp's team came out early for the second half but were not switched on when play resumed. Lovren conceded a needless corner with a miscued header and, from Sigurdsson's delivery, Liverpool lost every subsequent challenge. Federico Fernandez beat Ragnar Klavan and Lovren in the air to head goalwards. The ball rolled off Llorente's shins onto Wayne Routledge with his back to goal and, after he controlled, the Spanish centre-forward stabbed the loose ball beyond Mignolet from close range.

Liverpool were two goals in arrears before they had time to rouse themselves. Swansea's new signings were at the heart of an outstanding strike as Olsson broke down the left, paused when faced by Nathaniel Clyne, and flicked the ball onto Carroll.

The midfielder swept a perfect first-time cross towards the penalty spot and there was Llorente, towering above three Liverpool defenders, to steer a textbook header beyond Mignolet's grasp. Swansea were in dreamland, but now the hosts awoke from their slumbers.

The visitors had the cushion of a two-goal lead for all of three minutes before Firmino commenced the comeback with a convincing header of his own. Henderson sprayed a cross-field ball to James Milner on the left and he returned a deep cross towards the Brazilian who, with Olsson failing to clear, beat Fabianski with an unstoppable header. Olsson claimed he was nudged in the back by Firmino as they challenged for the cross and may have had a point, but referee Kevin Friend was unmoved.

Liverpool, team and crowd, were finally stirred and they clawed back the deficit courtesy of a sublime finish from the Brazil international. Georginio Wijnaldum created the equaliser with a fine piece of control to kill Milner's high ball and cross from the left but it was all about Firmino. Two Swansea defenders were in close attention yet powerless to prevent the forward taking the ball on his chest and sweeping a first-time finish inside Fabianski's right-hand post.

The stage was set for Klopp's team to complete the fightback and claim a victory that would reverberate through the title race. Time, momentum and Swansea's understandable nervousness was on Liverpool's side but so too was weak defending and remarkably it was the visitors who struck for a third time.

Leroy Fer and Llorente combined for Carroll to attack the Liverpool rearguard. He evaded two nondescript challenges and over-ran the ball into the path of Ragnar Klavan, who could only divert it across the penalty area towards Sigurdsson. The Iceland international made no mistake as he sent the ball back across Mignolet's goal.

Liverpool pressed for a third with Klopp introducing Daniel Sturridge, Divock Origi and Joel Matip as a makeshift striker but to no avail. Lallana hit the bar and missed an excellent chance from the rebound while Fabianski saved well from Origi and Lovren.  (Observer)

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