SWANSEA, Wales — Three observations from Liverpool’s 2-1 win over Swansea City as Jurgen Klopp’s men came from behind to secure all three points.
1. Liverpool fight back in South Wales
Liverpool are starting to make a habit of winning. James Milner’s late penalty secured a fourth Premier League win in a row for Jurgen Klopp’s side, a team that can’t keep a clean sheet but won’t need to if they keep scoring goals at the other end.
At half-time in Swansea, Liverpool were a goal down and looked short of ideas. By full time, the only surprise was that they hadn’t won by more than one. There is belief in this team, a compulsion to keep attacking that invokes memories of that near miss for the title under Brendan Rodgers in 2014. If you score one, we’ll score two; if you score two, we’ll score three. If nothing else, it’s certainly entertaining.
No team can change quite like the Reds. On the front foot, with such intelligent, instinctive movement, there’s no one in Europe that they couldn’t trouble. And yet it’s a different story at the back. They’re seven games into the season and still haven’t kept a team from scoring. They lasted just eight minutes in Wales, undone by a routine set-piece.
It was Gylfi Sigurdsson who caused the problems, as he does so often for Swansea. He swung his corner toward the far post, summer signing Borja headed it down, and Mike van der Hoorn directed it toward goal. It might have made it over the line under its own steam, but Leroy Fer was only too happy to make sure and bag his fourth goal of the season in the process.
Liverpool, who had looked bright in the opening exchanges, were rattled. They are renowned for getting into their opponents, unnerving them with their pressing, but Swansea were the ones doing the running.
The Swans could have extended their lead midway through the first half. A delightful lobbed pass from Sigurdsson found Jack Cork in the box, but he could only stab his shot at Loris Karius — the German’s first save for Liverpool after 202 minutes of first-team football.
As Liverpool flailed, Swansea piled on the pressure. Borja was guilty of a bad miss soon afterward, flashing a header wide from Sigurdsson’s cross. And there was more bad news for Klopp after 20 minutes when Adam Lallana was forced off with injury. He was replaced by Daniel Sturridge, left out once again.
Liverpool’s increasing desperation was highlighted shortly before the break when Sturridge tried to win a penalty only to find himself in possession of a yellow card for simulation instead. The jubilation expressed by the Swansea fans at Michael Oliver’s decision was not shared by Klopp, who took his frustrations out on the fourth official.
Liverpool needed a break and they got one 10 minutes into the second half. Philippe Coutinho’s free kick was charged down by the wall, but the ball fell to Jordan Henderson who tossed it back into the penalty area. The Swansea defence pushed up but not quickly enough to catch Roberto Firmino offside, and he calmly glanced his header past Lukasz Fabianski.
Liverpool were enlivened. Nathaniel Clyne found room to roam on the right; Coutinho came alive, slamming a shot just past the post; Sadio Mane was only denied by Kyle Naughton as the second half reached its midway point, and Sturridge headed wide from the resultant corner.
It was only a matter of time before the winner came. It was enabled not by Liverpool’s ingenuity but by a Swansea mistake. Angel Rangel tried to clear from his own box but succeeded only in swinging at thin air. Desperate to make amends, he shoved Firmino to the ground. Milner, for the fourth time this season, put the ball away from the spot.
2. Guidolin deserves praise
If Swansea manager Francesco Guidolin is to be sacked this week, he will leave with his head held high. Results have been poor: Swansea are without a win since the opening day, and there have been persistent rumours that Swansea have lined up Ryan Giggs as a replacement, but the Italian coach continues to press for victory rather than seeking only to avoid defeat.
Swansea were excellent against Manchester City last week, taking the game to Pep Guardiola’s side before eventually being overwhelmed. They played in much the same spirit here and the fans appreciated it. Guidolin’s name was sung emphatically by the home supporters, especially after Fer had opened the scoring.
The Swans played with intelligence and intensity, knowing when to push up to force mistakes and when to sit deep and fill the gaps. Liverpool were unable to find a way through their lines in the first half. The second half was, unfortunately for Swansea, a very different matter.
After Firmino’s equaliser, battle-weary players began to second-guess themselves, overthinking all the things they’d done on instinct before the break. Liverpool needed no encouragement to take advantage of their weakness. Van der Hoorn might have saved the day in the dying moments, scuffing wide from point-blank range. Guidolin’s luck was out.
3. Henderson growing into his role
It has been a difficult couple of years for Jordan Henderson. One of the driving forces of Liverpool’s near miss in 2014 (indeed his suspension for the crucial clash with Chelsea is often cited as one of the reasons for their failure), he’s struggled to recapture that form since.
But this season, he is developing into a more complete footballer, orchestrating affairs from the depths of midfield.
Other players will grab the headlines with their pass and movement, but it is Henderson who pulls the strings, driving his completed pass tally toward triple figures as the game progresses. He offers cover to the defence, support to the attack and doesn’t ever seem to stop moving. Much mocked in the past, he’s become one of the most important players in the team.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.