Forget seven: none of the Swans were a swimming after Liverpool sunk Leon Britton’s men with a comprehensive 5-0 win. The players were seemingly nursing Christmas hangovers in the first half, where creativity was lacking and the chances that did get carved out were largely squandered, but the second half was Liverpool in full flow. Four further goals were added to Coutinho’s first half strike to make sure the fans did not regret braving the cold; the result reinstated Klopp’s men to the top four after Spurs had temporarily displaced them.
The scoresheet shows that Liverpool were able to break the deadlock after just five minutes, but this belies the slow start. The opening exchanges were sloppy, with neither side mounting any threat whatsoever – the goal was produced out of nothing. Coutinho, the headline-writer’s dream, came up with a Christmas cracker from distance to fire the Reds into the lead following good pressing work from Firmino. This sort of goal has become normal from Coutinho at this point; once he had cut inside on to his right foot, nobody really expected him to miss. This consistency, once the only complaint that could be raised against the little Brazilian, means he can now be placed firmly in the world class bracket. Even by his standards, however, it was a nice strike – the goalkeeper was beaten not only by the placement but the power, as the ball was whipped ferociously into the top corner. The moment of magic proved to be something of an isolated incident in the first half. There were some nice link-ups between Salah and Coutinho, and Firmino missed a glorious opportunity right at the end of the opening forty-five minutes, but in general there was a definite failure to build upon the early lead. This bred nervousness: understandable, given that the Anfield crowd have witnessed more dropped points from winning positions than any other fans since Jurgen Klopp took charge.
The doubts were emphatically allayed in the second half. Credit must go to the manager and the team for successfully regrouping at half time and coming out with renewed determination – it was a crucial point in the match where more complacency could have been costly, but instead Liverpool finally kicked into gear. Seven minutes into the second half, the lead was doubled: Firmino made no mistake with this finish, volleying in from close range after a lovely free kick from compatriot Coutinho. Klopp must be relieved that his number nine is largely slipping under the wider footballing radar; the increased goal and assist output combined with his consistently excellent pressing and link-up play makes him a truly elite player, who Klopp will certainly want to hold on to for as long as possible. The next goal came from a less regular source. Young full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold scored his first Premier League goal, bursting into the box in order to slam a loose ball into the roof of the net. It felt like a seminal moment as he wheeled away towards the Kop with his arms outstretched – it can only be hoped that the clip will be replayed for years to come, and cited as the moment when Alexander-Arnold truly made the grade at his boyhood club. He and Joe Gomez have been two of the biggest positives of this campaign; for once, it feels as though there is a clear and genuine long-term route to the first team for two of the club’s young players. At the very least, Nathaniel Clyne must be concerned about whether he will be able to wrest his spot back when he returns from his somewhat mysterious long-term absence – it may well be that he simply provides the depth at full-back to allow Gomez to properly transition back to his natural central position, with Alexander-Arnold making the right-back spot his own.
Firmino was at it again for the fourth goal – on a day where the media were quick to eulogise about Kane for getting into the right positions, the Brazilian got in on the act by also successfully turning the ball into an empty net from six yards. Some might question whether this is genuinely the mark of an elite forward, but the old maxim that you have to be there to score them is undoubtedly true. The main credit must go to Salah, however: he was the one who had the awareness to know Firmino was waiting in the middle, and he selflessly produced the square ball to pick him out. This was Klopp’s cue to rest some of his stars: Solanke replaced the goalscorer, and Salah made way for Lallana. This meant a shift forward for Oxlade-Chamberlain, who topped off the evening by inventively chipping the ball in at the back post after a scrappy passage of play in the box. It was yet another good performance from the summer acquisition, who is industriously going about the business of silencing his doubters. He also further showcased his off-field strength of character in the post-match interview: he admitted that he was not particularly happy with his performance, a sentiment seldom expressed in any circumstances – let alone after scoring in a 5-0 win. This desire to grow and improve, nurtured by a manager famed for getting the best out of his players, is highly encouraging.
Games come thick and fast in the festive period, and Liverpool’s attentions immediately turn to Leicester’s visit on Saturday. Klopp will almost certainly rotate once more, but the squad is stronger now in terms of depth that it has been for a long time; the manager may be well-advised not to effectively play his second-string team like he did in the derby, but fans can nonetheless be confident of a win even when multiple changes are made. Regardless of personnel, a performance like the second half showing against Swansea will surely guarantee another three points.
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