I have always, always, always warned about facing former Liverpool players. This is why.
Today might have been the most Jonjo Shelvey match ever. Both comedy and farce, tragedy and triumph. A goal within two minutes, somehow finding a way through Liverpool's defense because he initially mis-kicked a volley, ghosting around Gerrard and Sakho, sending his first effort directly into a prone Skrtel but somehow in the perfect spot for a left-footed rebound. Then, three assists on the next three goals: two for Liverpool and one for Swansea. All that was missing was the red card. Instead, he only saw yellow for a fairly amusing tête-à-tête with Lucas early in the second half. There's really nothing you can say besides "That's so Jonjo."
Liverpool didn't have to wait long for the equalizer, again, thanks to the ex-Liverpool man. Within two minutes, with Liverpool piling forward, Shelvey played a crazy back pass under pressure from Henderson, straight to Sturridge, who unsurprisingly made no mistake with the finish. From ecstasy to horror, from hero to villain, within 90 seconds. That's so Jonjo.
The rest of the first half was Liverpool's, as we've become accustomed to. After holding a slight edge in possession following the equalizer, the dynamic Moses put Liverpool in front with ten minutes left in the half. Under no pressure in his own half, That's So Jonjo sent a pass straight to an open Moses, who charged at a retreating, out-of-position Swansea defense, creating space around Chico by shifting onto his stronger foot before blasting a shot from the top of the box
From there, Liverpool should have held on for the win. Even considering how standards and play have dropped in the second half in each of the last three fixtures, this Liverpool's rarely looked like giving back a lead once they've seized it. But not today. Swansea were utterly, totally, completely dominant after the interval. Two facets directly led to that see-saw: Laudrup replaced Dyer with de Guzman during the break, moving Shelvey into the front three, giving Swansea much more control in middle. 10 minutes later, a Stoke-like challenge from Williams on Coutinho forced the Brazilian off holding his shoulder, replaced by the ineffective Iago Aspas.
But that's little excuse for how outclassed Liverpool were over those 35-45 minutes, how easily Liverpool conceded possession, and how easily Liverpool conceded the equalizer. In the 64th minute, after Sturridge was caught offside chasing a hopeful punt from Enrique, Swansea passed around and through Liverpool's retreating midfield before Shelvey flawlessly headed down Britton's chip into the path of Michu, finished first time with Wisdom unable get in front of the shot. That's so Jonjo. And so Michu.
At least Liverpool never conceded a third, because it sure felt like Liverpool were bound and determined to concede a third. The final 25 minutes were all Swansea all the time. Liverpool took just one shot after that equalizer, an incredibly speculative Gerrard free kick. And Liverpool failed to create a single chance after Coutinho's injury.
Today's match had a lot of the first three fixtures in it. Play well enough in the first half and score an early goal, but get pushed deeper and deeper in the second half until you're hanging on by both finger and toenails. That was why a point seems so infuriating, even though a point keeps Liverpool ahead of the 19 other sides in the division. Yes, Liverpool scored twice, including the first league goal from a player not named Daniel Sturridge, but Liverpool also conceded twice, and fairly sloppily at that. Luck was bound to run out at some point. There's only so many times you can play Russian Roulette before finding the bullet.
Sure, there are excuses, some valid ones. Liverpool's defense could be described as makeshift at best, notably worse without both Agger and Johnson. One defender was making his debut, one's still a kid playing out of position, one's been out of favor for 10 months, and one's Jose Enrique. Wisdom looked unsteady throughout, finally subbed off for Toure after picking up a 66th minute yellow card. Sakho made some excellent tackles but is still finding his feet, overplaying on Swansea's first goal and too willing to recklessly dive in. And, it goes without saying that Liverpool's decline manifested most notably when Coutinho was forced off through injury, the victim of Ashley Williams' awkward barbarity.
Even more disappointing than the result was how bad Liverpool's midfield looked once Coutinho went off. Neither Lucas nor Gerrard blew the doors off in the first half, but without Coutinho, both were massively exposed, with the added "bonus" of being one of those days where Gerrard's usually finely tuned passing radar often seemed the opposite of finely tuned.
Second guessing Rodgers' substitutions has become a favored game in some corners of the internet, and it'll assuredly have been played today. In retrospect, Aspas for Coutinho made little sense, and was not what Liverpool needed. The side was already beginning to struggle to keep possession. Why not bring on Luis Alberto, who did so coolly – while also effectively pressing from the front – against both Notts County and in the last 10 minutes against United? Or move Henderson inside and shift Aspas out wide, where he can flit in and out of the game without hurting the side as much (although, admittedly, that would have put even more pressure on Wisdom). Why wasn't Allen even on the bench after Rodgers declared him fit in Friday's press conference? He'd also have been an excellent option to have. I like Iago Aspas. I think he'll eventually settle and turn into a valuable squad player. But he's struggled mightily in all five matches he's featured in.
Yes, yes. "Ay, here we are with problems at the top of the league." And there's admittedly some validity in that. Few predicted Liverpool would be unbeaten through its first four matches, let alone winning three of the four. Had you offered me that prior to the season, I'd have taken it laughing. Liverpool didn't take have 10 points until October 28 last season, after nine matches. The only time Liverpool took 10 points from four consecutive league matches in 2012-13 was in the last four matches of the campaign.
Sturridge is now just the ninth player in Premier League history to score in his sides opening four matches, the first Liverpool player to do so since John Aldridge in 1987 (yes, Liverpool won the title that season). Moses looked a handful on the left and scored an excellent debut goal before tiring in the second half. That signing allowed Coutinho to move back to his preferred position, and he was vastly improved compared to his performances against Stoke, Villa, and United in the first half. Henderson continued his much improved form. And aside from a couple of shaky moments, Sakho also impressed against tricky attackers, and will undoubtedly improve with time.
But top of league means little in the grand scheme of things when it's week four. And after Liverpool won its first three matches, even if all three were narrow wins, it's a disappointment to draw the fourth match when you had a lead with less than 30 minutes left.
And, yes, there are still concerns. Recurring concerns. Worrying concerns. About Liverpool's fitness with so many dismal second half performances, about Rodgers' in-game substitutions and tactical shifts, and certain personnel in certain positions.
"Ay, here we are with problems at the top of the league." Well, yes. But there are still 34 matches left. And if these problems continue, the stay at the top of the league will be a brief one.