Liverpool finally saw off the threat of Swansea City to edge an enthralling encounter 4-3 at Anfield on Sunday. Despite their traditionally fast start giving them an early 2-0 advantage courtesy of goals from Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson, they found a Swansea side undeterred and playing superbly.
Quick-fire goals from Jonjo Shelvey and a deflected header from Wilfried Bony incredibly had the visitors level, before Sturridge put Liverpool back in front to cap an incredible first half. There was little let up in the second, either, as Martin Skrtel’s reckless defending quickly allowed Bony to score from the spot. Ultimately, though, Liverpool’s firepower proved too much and Henderson grabbed his second to finally break Swansea’s resistance 16 minutes from time.
It was a contest that perfectly encapsulated why Liverpool remain in with a chance of winning the title, buy why this season will surely come too early for them to do so. Going forward, Liverpool were exhilarating at times and few teams could have handled them. With the combination of pace and creativity both in midfield and up front, Brendan Rodgers’ side are enthralling to watch.
Yet they also remain worryingly open. With Steven Gerrard often the only midfielder with an eye on defensive duties and with the back four, and on this day Skrtel in particular, continuing to look capable of throwing in errors, the opposition will always have chances. Still, a year ago this is a match that they likely would not have won and may well have lost. While they failed to ever fully take control of the match, their resolve to continue to bounce back from setbacks is deserving of much credit.
Despite defeat, Swansea can be mightily encouraged by their performance. Under Garry Monk, there were signs of Swansea’s passing game getting back to its best. To play so well after having the better of Napoli in a goalless draw on Thursday made their performance all the more impressive. While they remain just four points off the drop zone, if they continue to play as they did in Anfield, relegation should not be a worry.
As they have done so often this season, particularly at Anfield, Liverpool came charging out of the traps. And as with many of Liverpool’s opponents, Swansea initially proved unable to withstand the onslaught. The home side’s pressing saw Raheem Sterling steal the ball from Angel Rangel just inside his own half before immediately looking up and playing a wonderful pass with the outside of his right foot that found Sturridge running in between Swansea’s center-backs. Having missed chances against Arsenal last week, this time Sturridge made no mistake, touching past Michel Vorm and striking into the empty net.
Unlike in the demolition of Arsenal, though, Swansea were able to compose themselves as Liverpool’s pace dropped and Swansea established their familiar passing play.
But just as they were beginning to think about getting back on level terms, Liverpool struck once more. Swansea inexcusably allowed Henderson yards of space on the edge of their own box and as Sturridge rolled the ball back into his path, the midfielder took a touch before skillfully placing the ball with force into the top corner.
At two goals to the good, a team with genuine title aspirations might have been expected to stroll to a comfortable win. Not for the first time with Liverpool this season, that never looked like happening. With Lucas Leiva out injured and Henderson and Philippe Coutinho pushing forward at every opportunity, Gerrard’s aging legs were being pulled around to leave gaping holes through the middle.
Shelvey had already found the space on a couple of occasions before he took full advantage with a finish to better that even of Henderson’s. Receving the ball just outside the area, the former Liverpool midfielder unleashed a stunning effort with the side of his foot to take the ball careering into the top corner off the underside of the crossbar.
Less than four minutes later, incredibly, the scores were all square. Again Liverpool’s defending left something to be desired. Skrtel suffered the double ignominy of first giving away a free-kick in a dangerous position and then, when Jonathan de Guzman whipped it in, deflecting Bony’s tame header off his shoulder and past an unmoved Simon Mignolet.
Liverpool’s problems at the other end appeared to have little effect on their attacking play, as they continued to pour forward to get back in front before the break. It was a more patient move this time, but no less impressive. While not finding the net of late, Suarez continues to be a vital creative force and his chipped cross over the head of Ashley Williams to the back post was breathtaking to allow Sturridge to head home form six yards out.
Still Liverpool were unable to take grip of the game. Inside the first two minutes of the second half, Swansea were level once more with Skrtel once again to the fore for all the wrong reasons. The Slovakian has made a dangerous habit of grappling with opponents in the box throughout the season, but on this occasion, as he dragged Bony down to stop him getting on the end of a cross he was never going to get to anyway, referee Mike Jones had the courage to apply the rules and point to the spot. Bony stepped up confidently and struck the ball low into the corner to suck some of the air back out of Anfield.
The replacement of, the presumably injured, Shelvey at the break to be replaced by Jose Canas meant Swansea were less threatening going forward, while Rodgers’ decision to replace Sterling with the more stable midfield presence of Joe Allen gave Liverpool a greater sense of security. The pressing of both teams as well as some questionable defending none the less kept the match on a knife edge.
The hosts were still pushing to go ahead once more, but Suarez failed to take advantage of a one-on-one with Vorm, while Williams blocked well from Sturridge.
In the 74th minute, Swansea suffered a blow from which they had no more answers. Gerrard had been marshaled excellently throughout the contest by first Shelvey and then De Guzman, but the decision to replace the Dutchman with Pablo Hernandez immediately proved costly. For one of the first occasions, Gerrard had the space to unleash a raking pass that cannoned into the chest of Suarez on the edge of the Swansea box. His shot was poor but the ball came out to Henderson and at the second attempt he doubled his season's tally in the space of 90 minutes to finally see Liverpool over the line.