Finally. After enduring months of mediocre play and largely poor results, Liverpool look to have turned a corner. They turned it in style, marking a return to their fluid, intricate style of play from last season with an emphatic 4-1 win over Swansea City. The goals came courtesy of Moreno, Lallana (x2) and a Jonjo Shelvey own goal.
The performance today put paid to the saying “it doesn’t matter how you win them”. I came away from the Burnley game with, at best, a grim satisfaction. By contrast, the teams’ showing in this match has left me immensely pleased and has filled me with positivity for the rest of the season. All of our attacking players put in excellent performances, and the presence of Emre Can in our back three brought a new solidity to our defence. Rodgers has been put under a lot of pressure of late, but the clever decision to shift Can into defence and the choice of a formation that looks to fully utilise the attacking potential of our squad will surely earn him plaudits.
However, Rodgers can by no means take full credit for the win. There were some truly exquisite individual performances; Henderson managed two assists and Lallana scored twice, but the man of the match for me was Philippe Coutinho. Every flick and trick he tried came off, he beat players with ease and his passing was top quality – the crowning moment was his backheel assist for Lallana’s second goal. Raheem Sterling also played very well. Whilst the stats may suggest he was ineffectual, his runs were crucial in drawing defenders and creating space for others to play in. One of the players who benefited most from this space was Alberto Moreno – his explosively quick runs caused Swansea multiple problems, particularly in the first half. Fellow wing back Javier Manquillo deserves some credit for his solid defensive performance.
Of course the defence hasn’t fixed itself overnight, and some of the weaknesses were shown in this game. Mamadou Sakho made two shocking defensive errors, one of which resulted in the Swansea goal. To be fair to the Frenchman his general play was good and he demonstrated some nice passing to move the team forward, but mistakes such as those at this level are inexcusable. Skrtel was much improved from last game, but that’s not difficult. Mignolet made a couple of decent stops, but his kicking was even more wildly inaccurate than usual. Overall, though, the defensive performance was encouraging. Emre Can must take a lot of the credit for this; his assurance with the ball at his feet brought a calmness to the back line that we’ve rarely seen. Swansea struggled to create any clear cut chances, meaning they were forced to commit men forward and thus leave themselves vulnerable to our extremely potent attacking threat.
Part of the reason that this threat was so strong is the high tempo that Liverpool maintained both on and off the ball. The aforementioned positive passing of Sakho allowed smooth transition between defence and midfield, and the scintillating form of Coutinho ensured that chances were being carved out left, right and centre. The success of our pressing when not in possession was epitomised by the second goal; although it was extremely comical, it was not a total fluke. Lallana saw that the ball was about to be played back to Fabianski, and swiftly began a full-on sprint towards the goalkeeper. This meant he was in a position to put pressure on the Swansea stopper, block his clearance and watch as the ball looped into the net. He showed hunger and desire, and whilst these are clichés they are also necessary attributes for anyone who wants to succeed at Liverpool.
The battle for Liverpool now is consistency. If all of our attackers continue to play as they did today, and the defence can at least remain passable, it seems not only possible but probable that we will end the season in the top four. Our next three games are useful in this respect: Leicester, Sunderland and Villa are all teams we should be beating, and with a bit of luck we will be able to retain this level of performance against them. If we take all 9 points from these games then momentum is on our side, and we have an excellent springboard for the second half of the season.