Dan Holland gives his view on a comprehensive victory over a previously impressive Swansea side.
Following a very disappointing week after two back to back victories todays journey to Anfield was one filled with fear as Liverpool were facing a Swansea side playing some excellent football coupled with regular victories that sees them currently above us in the league. This re-arranged game was initially scheduled for the following weekend but our visitors from South Wales had a more pressing engagement at Wembley in the Capital One Cup Final.
I initially thought the decision to agree to this re-arrangement was fool hardy, as it followed a run of 4 very tough not to mention important games and the weekend off would have given a small squad important recovery time ahead of a vital 2nd leg in the Europa League. However the timing of this game proved to be the catalyst for a stunning victory.
Approaching the ground after a swift pint in The Park, I learned of the team news, my initial impressions was one of pity for Jordan Henderson who found himself along with Jonjo Shelvey the two scapegoats for the previous Premier League defeat against West Brom. There was also a feeling of excitement as Daniel Sturridge returned from injury and Phillipe Coutinho was selected to make his full Liverpool debut.
The line up was very adventurous to say the least with 4 very attack minded players not to mention Steven Gerrard joining in from midfield and two marauding full backs in Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson both of whom needed vastly improved performances from the ones they gave merely 6 days ago.
The impact that Daniel Sturridge has had on this team cannot be underestimated, with him in the side scoring goals seems easy. This again proved to be the case again today, but in the pre match warm up I did have my concerns. Having missed the last game with a thigh strain I was paying close attention to his involvement in the warm up. When the players were doing the shooting drill Daniel played no part, he was just doing a number of stretches. I feared he wasn’t fully fit, these fears continued into the early stages of the first half as on a number of occasions he was very slow in returning to his position following the break down of play and wasn’t overly sharp in front of goal.
The game got off to a pretty even start for the first 15-20 minutes with both sides passing the ball well although it was only the Swansea goalkeeper who was forced into any serious action. Vorm saving well from Suarez and Sturridge. By the half an hour mark Liverpool had stamped their authority on this game winning individual battles all over the pitch, especially in attacking areas.
The front 5 (Gerrard included) for Liverpool were all having a very impressive afternoon. Gerrard was very economical with the ball, Downing always available for a pass and was willing to attack his full back at any opportunity. Suarez was his usual industrious and creative self between the lines, and Coutinho the little Brazilian was becoming more of a threat as the game went on.
The player I want to focus on though is Daniel Sturridge. What an impact this so called “risky” signing has made. We have become one of the most potent attacking sides in the league since the young England international arrived at Anfield. He is sharp, hungry, quick and skillfull all of which are key ingredients in a modern day centre forward.
Yesterday though we saw the best and worst of our January signing. The best is out there for all to see but the good news for us is that he still has a lot to learn and can become a far greater player. His decision making sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. On two separate occasions before we took the lead Sturridge made the wrong decision, keeping the game at 0-0. On the first occasion he tried to be too clever and walk the ball in the net rather than shooting first time, the ball eventually broke to Coutinho who should of scored.
The second was when he was played in by a superb pass from Suarez, his first touch let him down slightly making the chance harder. Suarez had continued his run into the box and had a tap in had Sturridge squared the ball but the front man chose to attempt a chipped finish over Vorm. This left the Uruguayan incandescent with rage. As an occasional forward myself I understand why Sturridge shot and maybe Suarez would have done too, but it is this kind of decision making that separates the great from the good.
Luckily the game wasn’t to stay goal less for long but had it stayed nil nil as we saw against West Brom that moment especially could have been key. I am absolutely over the moon with Sturridges arrival and the impact he has had but I do worry about this side of his game but I’m sure BR will be aware of this and will continue working with our SAS.
The Kop were partying, which can only mean Suarez won a pen. Our No. 7 was needlessly brought down as he had appeared to run the ball out of play. However it required the referee’s assistant to give the decision as Howard Webb appeared uninterested. Gerrard took the ball without hesitation despite his miss on Monday night. This time however he hit it harder and truer and the ball found the bottom corner to give us a deserved 1-0 lead. For the following ten minutes the fans smelt blood and vociferously encouraged their team forward, with 5 shots requiring last ditch blocks from the Swansea defence and Vorm saving another effort from Sturridge. It took until the 41st minute for Swansea to test Pepe Reina, the Spaniard being equal to De Guzman’s effort.
As the teams left the field for the half time break, there was a sense of relief around the stadium as the performance was a huge improvement and that all important first goal had been delivered undoubtedly making Brendans half time team talk a lot easier.
The 2nd half was barely 20 seconds old when Luis Suarez seized on a Swansea mistake, he in turn fed Coutinho who ran with purpose at the heart of the Swansea defence before firing in a low drive that deceived Vorm in the Swansea goal giving Liverpool the perfect start to the 2nd half and doubling the lead.
This goal understandably deflated a weakened Swansea side and Liverpool continued to attack with vigour and only 4 minutes later scored what has to be one of the ‘team goals’ of the season. If ever a goal identified the term tika-taka football it was this one. Some sublime skill and quick passes all in a small area of the pitch between Sturridge, Enrique and Suarez resulted in Sturridge feeding the left back in front of the goal who fired an unstoppable shot into the roof of the Swans net. Even more unusually it was with his standing leg (right foot).
Liverpool were playing at the top of their game right now and the opposition could get nowhere near us. Only five minutes later saw a fourth goal arrive after some neat play and an excellent ball from Stewart Downing fed Suarez who tricked and faked his way across both Swansea centre halves before calmly guiding an accurate left footed shot into the bottom corner.
Liverpool four nil up and coasting, the opposition were well beaten and it appeared that from the start of the game that both manager and players from South Wales had more than half an eye on Wembley. Liverpool were now playing well within themselves and started to make substitutions. Firstly Jordan Henderson replaced the impressive Coutinho who left to a well-deserved standing ovation. The tempo of the game had by this point noticeably slowed down with Liverpool happy to reserve energy ahead of the Zenit tie on Thursday and Swansea resigned to a heavy defeat.
In the 69th minute a Luis Suarez cross was handled by Wayne Routledge, the penalty was given again by Mr Webbs assistant. The ball was thrown to the skipper; the events of the next 30 seconds confirmed everything we already know about Stevie and Carras personality. Gerrard turned to Jamie and offered him the penalty, a typical act of selflessness and recognition of his partner in crime for the entirety of his career, which was a great touch. Carra seemed to think about it for a second or two and even appeared to step forward, this was however followed by a shake of the hand as if to say thanks but no thanks.
Without knowing the exact reason for the refusal my guess is that Carras professionalism once again came to the fore. He would be thinking that this is no testimonial and didn’t want to disrespect Swansea by taking a penalty he would have never normally taken. I believe this to be the reason as he has volunteered for penalties in shootouts on more than one occasion so has the confidence to step up when needed.
Knowing the penalty was up for grabs Daniel Sturridge asked if he could be the beneficiary of Gerrards generosity, again showing his hunger to score goals. The resulting penalty was dispatched with ease and Liverpools lead extended to 5-0. A further two substitutions were made; Joe Allen replacing Lucas and Fabio Borini giving Luis Suarez a rare rest.
The luckless Italian however wasn’t to finish the game following in an innocuous looking challenge that resulted in a blood curdling scream from Borini as he had somehow dislocated his shoulder. An injury that has ended his first season in a Liverpool shirt somewhat prematurely, whilst he won’t be missed on the field in my opinion it is never nice to see an honest professional suffer serious injury.
A great day at Anfield which will hopefully be followed by another famous European night on Thursday, regrettably I will be at home cheering on the boys from there.