Sturridge 3' 36'
Henderson 20' 74'
Bony 27' 48' (pen)
So many of Liverpool's matches this season have taken your breath away. Some of them – 5-0 Tottenham, 4-0 Everton, 5-1 Arsenal – delightfully so. But some of them – 3-3 Everton, 5-3 Stoke, 3-2 Fulham, and today's – have been nerve-wracking, vomit-inducing hot messes.
Evidently, Swansea didn't get the memo. When Liverpool go up 2-0 in the first 20 minutes at Anfield, you're supposed to fall to pieces, roll over and let Liverpool have its way with you. Liverpool had the lead within three minutes, Sterling's Coutinho-like throughball perfectly placed for Sturridge's run, rounding the keeper before the finish into the open net. He's now scored in eight consecutive league matches, for his 17th goal of the season. He's pretty good at this football thing.
Swansea's response should have demonstrated that this wouldn't be as easy as Everton or Arsenal, finding space in Liverpool's midfield and down Liverpool's left, Dyer against the returning Glen Johnson, but Liverpool soon had a second. This time, Sturridge turned provider, creating space on the right flank before cutting inside and setting up a wide open Henderson, the shot hit with aplomb. You'd expect that'd be game over, given the majority of what we've seen at Anfield this season. You'd be wrong.
Of course, Shelvey was the epicenter of Swansea's first two goals, scored within four minutes. The first was a brilliant strike, nearly a carbon copy of the Henderson one which preceded it: Dyer finding space down Liverpool's left, cutting in, and teeing up the midfielder at the top of the box, the shot unstoppably placed. And then Shelvey won the debatable free kick for the second, unsurprisingly conceded by Skrtel, evidently for kicking out after the center-back won the ball. Bony easily eluded Johnson's marking, but his header was either going off-target or was going to be saved by Mignolet before deflecting off Skrtel. The striker was given credit, but it might well go down as Skrtel's third own goal of the season. Yes, third. That's depressingly impressive.
Like against Villa, West Brom, and Fulham, this midfield didn't quite work in matchess where Liverpool expect to see a lot of the ball. It's been fantastic against Everton and Arsenal, compact but ready to press, keeping its shape in Liverpool half, smartly picking and choosing when to take its opportunities to attack. It's been less so in those aforementioned games, with Coutinho, Henderson, and Gerrard all trying to join the attack, leaving far too many gaps at the back. Gaps which further expose Liverpool's already earthquake-shaky defense.
But, because Liverpool often just won't be denied in front of goal, they were soon back in front. Suarez, still unable to find his shooting boots, demonstrated just how important he can be even when he isn't scoring, working space down the left before delivering an indescribably perfect cross for Sturridge, in between Williams and Taylor, to head home. It was a cross sent in to the exact centimeter, hit just hard enough to rise over Williams and still find Sturridge without giving Taylor even a chance at stopping it.
Of course, Swansea continued to threaten Liverpool's negligible, negligent defense for the rest of the half: Bony denied by Mignolet's fingertips, Rangel's free header from a corner wide, Dyer dragging his shot off-target, Agger's brilliant last-ditch block after Coutinho was dispossessed. But Liverpool made it to halftime without conceding again. Okay. Deep breaths. Regroup. Solidify. Get an early fourth, kill the game.
Swansea were level within three minutes of the restart, scoring with its first attack. It appeared Liverpool had the situation under control. Sterling had swept up, Johnson was there to cover. Nope. The Invisible Anfield Turf Monster rose up and grabbed Sterling's ankles, after Johnson had already started to go forward. Dyer snuck in, picked up possession, and crossed towards Bony, marked by both Agger and Skrtel. But Agger was there to make the clearing header. In position and everything, with the header sent clear of the box. Pity that Skrtel decided to bear hug Bony, and Mike Jones decided that he's gotten away with enough of that nonsense this season. Penalty. Bony steps up. Goal.
And back to square one all over again. A couple of chances for Suarez, but still not taken, still struggling with his shooting, as he has since scoring the fourth against Everton. And it's getting worse. Swansea continuing to threaten when given the chance: a de Guzman free kick just wide, then the same player denied by Mignolet four minutes later.
Thankfully, Rodgers had seen enough, bringing on Allen for Sterling, a move which shifted Coutinho out wide. Liverpool's midfield was immediately, noticeably better. Swansea stopped getting so many chances. Liverpool started having a lot more possession. And it seemed a matter of time before the fourth, as long as Suarez could find the target. First, Sturridge chipped just high and wide, then had a shot fantastically blocked by Williams, but the next four openings fell to the Uruguayan. Off-target, no penalty, off-target, blocked.
But on that last opening, the block fell perfectly for Henderson's run forward, taking it in stride, his first effort saved by Vorm but the second chance unstoppable from a yard out. Sometimes, it's better to be lucky than good, and even better to be lucky and good. It was Henderson's second brace for the club, following his domineering performance at Newcastle last season, and you could see what it meant to him, screaming in euphoric relief.
Okay. You've got 15 or so minutes. Just don't do anything stupid. And for the most part, Liverpool didn't, aside from one frightening moment where were nearly got yet another Skrtel own goal, as Johnson's attempted, wayward clearance hit him in the chest, but fortunately ricocheted straight to Mignolet. It's wasn't the best defensive shell. It was, because it's Liverpool, incredibly stressful. But it was good enough, as the best chance of the final 10 minutes fell to Gerrard, hammered and deflected onto the post. Because it's not a Liverpool game if Liverpool don't hit the woodwork, evidently.
Jordan Henderson will get the plaudits for his two goals, and rightfully so, as will Sturridge for his brace. Sturridge's scoring run is beyond words, especially since it's come when Suarez can't score for love or money or love and money. Suarez and Sterling's assists were pretty damn gorgeous. But Joe Allen's man of the match. He completely changed proceedings. 18 of 19 passes, 5/6 tackles, 2/2 dribbles, 7 ball recoveries, 1 chance created, 1 interception. Before Allen, Liverpool's midfield was more open than a pervert's trenchcoat. After Allen, it was thankfully tied shut. Before Allen, Swansea took 11 shots and created eight chances in 56 minutes. After Allen, they took three shots and created two chances.
Liverpool's defense, on the other hand, was the opposite of man of the match. Agger and Johnson, to be fair, played like they're both returning from injury because both were returning from injury. Flanagan was mostly okay. Toure, replacing Agger in the 63rd minute, did enough, even if he causes similar pangs of fear as Martin Skrtel. And Skrtel was a walking catastrophe, to blame for some of it, deeply unlucky for some of it. Regardless – and I think we've said this before – Liverpool's defense really needs to get better. Soon would be nice.
Because Liverpool can't keep winning games 5-3, 3-2, 4-3. As much fun as Liverpool's attack is, as much fun as these games are for the neutral, it really doesn't seem sustainable. And my heart can't take Liverpool continuing to win 5-3. 3-2, and 4-3 games.