Yesterday, Liverpool faced fellow Premier League side Swansea in the Capital One Cup. The reds put in a solid display, but it looked like they were going to be sent crashing out of the competition until two late goals turned the match on its head.
It was clear from the start of the match that Rodgers had sent out his players with instructions to press high and put Swansea under pressure. This resulted in chances being created – for the first half an hour Liverpool were posing an almost constant threat. Borini was particularly good at this; his hunger for the game and determination to prove himself meant he happily chased down every ball. However, the pressure never really materialised into efforts on goal. Tremmel was barely tested in the first half, with good positions being squandered. This served to highlight how much we are missing Sturridge; Coutinho’s through balls were on point, but there was nobody there with the confidence and quality to provide the finish. For the final fifteen minutes of the half Liverpool eased off a bit, and consequently Swansea applied a little pressure of their own. Brad Jones looked very uncomfortable with the ball at his feet, rushing multiple clearances. The Welsh side were unable to capitalise on this period of vulnerability, and the half ended with the game still scoreless.
The second half started, and Liverpool were once again producing football at a level they’ve failed to reach for much of this season. Coutinho was really pulling the strings in midfield, often drawing two or three men before playing a lovely pass to a teammate. That said, clear cut chances were still very much at a premium – most of our shots on goal were speculative long range efforts. Although the team were managing to keep up their attacking momentum from the first half, a little of the defensive solidity had been sacrificed. This led to a much more open game; Swansea were starting to worry the notoriously shaky Liverpool back line. After 65 minutes the visitors did manage to exploit the defensive weaknesses of the hosts: a ball over the top left Lovren in no man’s land, and Marvin Emnes finished excellently to give Swansea the lead.
The goal was followed by a worrying spell for Liverpool. They were in disarray having gone behind despite being on top, and Swansea could easily have doubled their lead. Gomis had the pick of the chances, finding himself unmarked in the box from a set piece but firing his header straight at Jones. Eventually things settled down, but the Reds still didn’t look likely to score the goal that would bring them back on level terms. With 10 minutes to play, Brendan Rodgers took Lambert off for Balotelli. This change should have been made much earlier. Lambert looked off the pace all game, as his lack of speed and mobility prevented him from properly integrating himself into the high pressing system. Balotelli had a positive effect on the side immediately, combining well with Coutinho and Borini to carve out chances. It was Borini who got the assist for Balotelli’s goal in the 85th minute: an inch perfect cross was attacked well by Balotelli, who knocked it home from close range.
With the scores level, Liverpool really kicked on. Federico Fernandez was shown a straight red with just minutes left to go – it was never a red card offence (and arguably not even a foul), but the dismissal left gaps for LFC to exploit. Into the 95th minute it looked as though Swansea would get the chance to go in and regroup before extra time, but Dejan Lovren of all people scored a late winner to send Liverpool through. It came from a set piece: Coutinho’s lovely ball in was totally misjudged by Tremmel, and Lovren got his head to it. He headed the ball downwards, and it bounced into the net. Liverpool are now through to the final 8 of the Capital One Cup.
It’s excellent that the two heroes of the game are the two most under-fire Liverpool players. Balotelli in particular will surely be relieved to have found the net after his long drought, his last goal coming against Ludogorets. Hopefully both Lovren and Balotelli can kick on from here and start really returning on the investments made in them. Borini will be hopeful of a place in the starting line-up when Liverpool face Newcastle on Saturday – he played fairly well on the whole, and combined nicely with fellow countryman Balotelli. Whoever starts at the weekend, the reds will fancy their chances of victory if they put in another performance like this.