17 February 2013

Liverpool 5-0 Swansea

Gerrard 34' (pen)
Coutinho 46'
Enrique 50'
Suarez 56'
Sturridge 71' (pen)

One goal from 22 shots in the first half. Three goals from five shots in the first 10 minutes of the second half. I think that pretty much sums up this season's inconsistency, and the biggest cause of it.

Liverpool's 22 shots were a league-wide high for a single half this season, as were the 35 in total for a single match.

That's the difference that Daniel Sturridge makes. Five players got on the scoresheet today, but Sturridge adds a second consistent scorer to Liverpool's inconsistent attack, ensuring that defenses can't focus on Luis Suarez. Who, as we all know, vacillates even more wildly between clinical and wasteful than Liverpool as a whole. Sturridge has connected immediately with Suarez, and has been a far better signing than any of us could have imagined or hoped. That I doubted him is seemingly one of the dumbest things I've ever written, and it's not as if we're lacking for choices in that department. I couldn't be happier to be proven wrong.

Also, as much as he'd rather it didn't, some credit for today's rout has to go to Michael Laudrup. Swansea have had eight days since their last match and a full week to go before the League Cup final. Yes, that fixture will be the biggest in the club's history, but you'd think that the squad would have enough time to recuperate. But Swansea made seven changes to its usual XI, with only one forced by Chico's injury, leaving out Michu, Williams, Dyer, Routledge, Rangel, and Ki. Michu has scored 15 league goals this season. Swansea's starting XI had scored just nine. Ashley Williams has been the bane of Suarez's existence in Liverpool's three previous league matches against Swansea, with the striker failing to score or even create a single chance. Not only did Suarez score today, he created eight chances – a season-high – including one assist, as well as winning the crucial first penalty to open the floodgates. And now Swansea are going into that biggest match in club history on the back of its biggest loss since promotion to the Premiership.

It certainly didn't look like finishing 5-0 after the first half an hour. Liverpool were rampant, but Liverpool were as wasteful as ever. It took just 23 minutes to surpass the amount of off-target shots Liverpool had in the reverse fixture at Swansea. Downing shot wide from an excellent position twice, Johnson missed with a free header from a corner, Suarez blasted over twice in quick succession, Sturridge headed just over the crossbar from six yards out, and Coutinho missed a close range effort after Webb ignored what appeared a clear penalty on Sturridge. Despite the ball rarely leaving Swansea's half, all those horrific memories of last week's match at West Brom came flooding back.

But then Webb did give a penalty – well, the linesman gave it – when Agustein stupidly tripped Suarez at the byline, a situation that would have been a corner at worst and most likely a goal kick. Had Liverpool erred, it really could have been West Brom all over again, just as Foster's save on Gerrard sent the home side into a tailspin. This time, the captain squirmed his spot kick under Vorm. Those moments define outcomes, and those outcomes define seasons.

With a one goal lead, Liverpool could either have put the foot on the gas or retreated, allowing a clearly second-best side back into the game. We've seen both this season. Thankfully, Liverpool couldn't have started the second half more impressively.

Swansea kicked off, Enrique intercepted the hoof out of defense, cleverly finding Suarez on the volley. Three defenders immediately converged on Liverpool's talisman, who somehow saw Coutinho bombing into the open space. Britton couldn't catch him, Monk retreated and couldn't make the block when Coutinho feinted onto his left to free room to hit it with his right, and Vorm couldn't keep out the fiercely-hit strike. The goal means that three of Rodgers' five permanent first-team signings have scored on their Anfield debut, with Coutinho joining Borini and Sturridge. Only Allen and Assaidi didn't. Still, not a bad record.

From there, Liverpool ran riot; again, the difference between taking and missing chances and the difference that confidence makes. Enrique added the third after some wonderful intricate passes from a Liverpool throw-in deep in Swansea's half, a throw won by Suarez's pressing and refusal to give up on what appeared to be a broken play. Sturridge danced to keep possession, which led to one-touch passes to Coutinho to Enrique to Suarez to Enrique to Sturridge, with the striker driving forward before centering for the left-back, toe-poked over Vorm with his weaker foot.

The fourth was much more direct: a Carragher interception and layoff to Gerrard, a quick pass to Downing, and a lovely throughball splitting two defenders for Suarez, charging into the box before finishing with his left. Total time of Liverpool possession: 11 seconds. Tiki-taka for the third, straight to the opposition's throat for the fourth. The fifth was another spot kick, the sort of spot kick conceded by a team knowingly beaten, with Routledge unnecessarily handling Enrique's deep cross. Gerrard relinquished duties to the deserving Sturridge, whose excellently-taken effort went over the despairing Vorm. It was the first time Liverpool scored two penalties in a single match since facing Aston Villa in March 2009, another 5-0 win.

Sandwiched between those two goals were even more Liverpool chances. Full of free-flowing confidence, these weren't wasted; Laudrup wasn't kidding when he said that Vorm prevented a much bigger loss, with two superlative saves on Sturridge while Suarez had a rebound well-blocked by Monk.

Liverpool then took the opportunity to rest a few players. The not-quite-match-fit Coutinho went off at 4-0, on the hour mark, but Rodgers took off Lucas and Suarez after the fifth with Zenit looming on Thursday, replaced by Allen and Borini. Not Gerrard though, whose streak of playing every Premiership minute remains intact.

And the last ten minutes saw little but Liverpool's only disappointment of the day: less than seven minutes after coming on, Borini dislocated his shoulder. Rodgers thinks he'll be out for the rest of the season. Sadly, that kid is having one of the unluckiest campaigns on record. At least with Liverpool's January signings, it's nowhere near as big a loss as when he broke a metatarsal.

There isn't much to say when the team is this overwhelmingly good. The first 30 minutes was frightening, Liverpool excellent in everything but the finish, although Swansea never looked like punishing the profligacy. Of course, neither did West Brom until they actually did. But the final hour was Liverpool at its best, all involved in earning the result. Suarez providing the magic, Sturridge providing the thrust, aided by Coutinho's guile and Downing's steadiness on the flanks, with Gerrard and Lucas spreading play wonderfully at the base. Henderson was outstanding after coming on. As against West Brom, Johnson and Enrique disappointed in the opposition's half in the first 45 minutes, but simply couldn't have been better in the second 45.

Today marks the first time Liverpool have scored at least five goals in four matches in a single season since 1995-96, when Roy Evans' third-place side beat Bolton, City, and Leeds in the league and Rochdale in the FA Cup. That, like the statistic to open this review, is another demonstration of Liverpool's inconsistency. This team has the potential to be one of the most prolific in the league. It's just that too often we've seen it profligate instead.


Trevor Downey said...

Enjoyed that, Nate. Nice work.

suley said...

It's great to have a win and all but until we beat a strong team by scoring late and against the odds I will not be convinced by this team.
I question what the result would have been today if we didnt score in the first half and didnt score in the first 15 minutes of the second half.

drew said...

Loving this as always. One thing: lord knows we haven't had many opportunities to see it this year, but it seems like the buildup leading to a penalty would be a productive addition to the goal chart.

Also I'm still finding it hilarious that in a game where Webb finally gave us penalties, they both had to be called by his linesmen.