Swansea 3–1 Liverpool
Premier League – Liberty Stadium – Sunday 1st May 2016
Goals: Ayew 20′, 67′, Cork 33′; Benteke 64′
Lining up to face the Swans just 57 hours after arriving home from Villarreal, Jurgen Klopp heavily rotated his side in south Wales.
Danny Ward replaced Simon Mignolet in goal for his second Reds start, with captain for the afternoon, Martin Skrtel, and Brad Smith completing the back four as Kolo Toure and Alberto Moreno were left on Merseyside.
Jordon Ibe and Sheyi Ojo resumed wide duties either side of Coutinho, and Daniel Sturridge was the chosen man to the lead the line after being left on the bench in Spain, completing Liverpool’s youngest starting XI since 1971.
Christian Benteke was named on the bench, which included only six substitutes after Connor Randall was sent home with virus.
Meanwhile, Swansea made two changes from their 4-0 loss to Leicester last week, with Jordi Amat and Jefferson Montero replacing Federico Fernandez and Leroy Fer.
In the moments before kick off, Swansea paid tribute to the Hillsborough justice campaign, with both captains Skrtel and Ashley Williams presenting a “96” wreath as You’ll Never Walk Alone was played to applause.
It was a quiet start to proceedings at the Liberty Stadium, with the young Reds struggling to find rhythm in their passing in the opening exchanges.
After a sleepy first 10 minutes, the first chance of the afternoon fell to Sturridge, who volleyed wide inside the box after a decent ball in from Ibe.
The Swans awoke immediately thereafter, with Gylfi Sugurdsson firing straight at Ward after Andre Ayew set the ball to the Icelandic midfielder, and the Ghanaian then lashed an effort of his own wildly over the bar a minute later.
The home side upped the ante as Liverpool continually caused their own problems through their own sloppiness in possession, and Swansea’s pressure eventually told in the 20th minute, in somewhat typical fashion.
After a last-ditch block from Lovren conceded a corner, Sigurdsson swung in a fine delivery which was headed home by the unmarked Ayew from six yards, to give the home side a deserved lead against the disjointed Reds.
In a rare foray forward, Coutinho embarked on a mazy run and went down in the area, but the Brazilian saw his penalty appeals waved away before Ibe’s strike was easily gathered by Lukasz Fabianski.
Swansea were in control – with the Reds’ midfield of Chirivella and Stewart constantly overrun – and only a great save from Ward prevented the home side doubling their lead, with the Welshman denying Jack Cork.
Jordi Amat then somehow headed over from point-blank range and Ward was then called to make another fine save, keeping out Montero’s effort at his near post as chances came thick and fast for the dominant Swans.
The Reds were not in the contest, looking like the inexperienced outfit they were, and on the half-hour mark Cork doubled the lead with a curling effort that beat Ward all ends up.
Klopp’s side were very much second best, but nearly pulled one back through Sturridge, whose brilliant chipped effort dropped just wide, before he then saw a speculative long-range strike saved.
Sturridge – frustrated all first half by the slowness of service from his teammates – then tried his luck from a free-kick, but struck harmlessly wide in the last action of an extremely poor first period.
Klopp made two changes at half-time as he searched for a way back into a one-sided contest, with Lucas Leiva and Christian Benteke replacing the struggling Chirivella and Coutinho, giving the Reds a 4-4-2 shape.
The switches gave the Reds a foothold, with their ball retention improved as Lucas ticked play over nicely, but creativity still lacked in a quiet start to the second half.
With 58 minutes on the clock, the deficit was nearly halved when Neil Taylor almost knocked into his own net, as Benteke went down in the box as a cross from Ojo came in.
And six minutes later, Liverpool pulled one back, with Benteke using his presence in the box to head home from a perfect corner delivered by Ojo to make it 2-1.
But the comeback was short-lived, and Swansea restored their two-goal cushion just three minutes later, when Ayew grabbed his second after some dreadful defending from Klopp’s side ended with the striker finding the bottom corner inside the box.
Francesco Guidolin’s men reasserted control on the contest, and a miserable afternoon was compounded further when Smith – who endured a torrid afternoon – was sent off 15 minutes from time.
Yet more suspect defending from a corner saw Angel Rangel nearly crash home a fourth, but his effort flashed into the side-netting as the home fans began to celebrate.
The contest petered out with both sides playing out time, but Sigurdsson looked for a fourth five minutes from time, firing a speculative effort straight at Ward from 25-yards out.
Ayew then tried his luck as he searched for a hat-trick, but shot wide, and the points stayed in Wales on a disappointing afternoon for Klopp’s side.
TIA Man of the Match: Danny Ward
Swansea: Fabianski, Rangel, Amat, Williams, Taylor, Britton (Fulton 90′), Cork, Sigurdsson, Routledge, Montero (Naughton 71′), Ayew
Subs not used: Nordfeldt, Fernandez, Ki Sung-Yueng, Barrow, Gomis
Liverpool: Ward, Clyne, Skrtel, Lovren, Smith, Stewart, Chirivella (Lucas, half-time), Ibe (Brannagan, 80), Coutinho (Benteke, half-time), Ojo, Sturridge
Subs not used: Mignolet, Teixeira, Lallana.
Referee: Roger East
Up next: The Reds turn their attention back to their quest for European glory on Thursday night, when they host Villarreal for the crucial semi-final second-leg.