15 March 2015

Liverpool at Swansea 03.16.15

4pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
4-1 Liverpool (h) 12.29.14
2-1 Liverpool (h; League Cup) 10.28.14
4-3 Liverpool (h) 02.23.14
2-2 (a) 09.16.13

Last three matches:
Liverpool: -0-0 Blackburn (h); 2-0 Burnley (h); 2-1 City (h)
Swansea: 2-3 Tottenham (a); 1-0 Burnley (a); 2-1 United (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Gerrard, Sterling 6; Coutinho, Henderson, Lallana, Own Goal 4; Sturridge 3; Lambert, Markovic, Moreno 2; Balotelli, Borini, Can, Johnson, Skrtel 1
Swansea: Bony 9; Ki 6; Siguðsson 5; Dyer, Routledge 3; Gomis, Shelvey 2

Referee: Roger East

Guess at a line-up:
Can Skrtel Sakho
Sterling Henderson Allen Moreno
Lallana Coutinho

Gerrard's fit, Allen's fit, Sakho's fit, Skrtel's fit, and even Jon Flanagan's fit, or at least close enough to be training. Liverpool have a few more options than they did a week ago. And Liverpool have had eight days since their last match, much needed time for physical and mental recuperation.

Ideally, that means we'll see both Can and Sakho return to the defense. Liverpool have defended well enough with Sakho injured, with Can needed in midfield, with Lovren and Toure and Johnson, at the back, but Liverpool have desperately missed Can and Sakho when building attacks. Both are light years better in that regard than anyone else in Liverpool's squad, and that absence was, by far, the most noticeable failing in last week's 0-0 draw against Blackburn.

Allen's absence in midfield, replaced by Can, wasn't far behind. Back in form, he balances Henderson's talents and flaws: calm and cool in possession, intelligent in positioning and pressing, busy in defense.

So I'm not necessarily sure that Gerrard will go straight into the starting XI. Maybe that's overly optimistic – this is Gerrard we're talking about, after all. He could start in place of Allen, he could push Henderson to wingback (as happened at Burnley and against Leicester soon after the switch to 3-4-2-1), or he could start in as one of the advanced attacking midfielders – most likely Lallana, given how crucial Coutinho has been. But, and I've written this before, I'd prefer him as a substitute, break-glass-if-needed in the final 30 minutes, all out rampaging running at the opposition for half-an-hour if Liverpool need to change the tenor of proceedings. I still question whether he has the legs for 90 minutes. I definitely question whether he has the legs to press as Liverpool needs its attackers to press from the opening whistle.

It's not easy to break into Liverpool's front three at the moment. Sterling has been relegated to wing-back with everyone fit, making further use of his mind-blowing versatility, with Sturridge, Coutinho, and Lallana up front. And I suspect (or, possibly, "hope") that'll remain the case tomorrow. Lallana and Markovic are also options at wing-back, but Sterling provides better and more useful running from the position, even if he's not as influential further from goal.

Long story short: if it ain't broke…

As for Swansea. Since losing to Liverpool at the end of December, they've beaten United and Southampton, but were utterly torn asunder by Chelsea, lost to West Brom, and drew with Sunderland and QPR. They're stacked in central midfield, decent in defense (although keeping just two clean sheets in the last 12 matches), and threadbare up front. Swansea's four best players have been midfielders: Sigurðsson, Ki, Shelvey, and Cork. And Monk's had to fit his team around them.

Their XI against Tottenham has been typical of the recent line-ups: Fabianski; Naughton, Fernandez, Williams, Taylor; Cork, Ki; Sigurðsson, Shelvey, Routledge; Gomis.

Swansea have started those four central midfielders since signing Jack Cork in January, with one of Siguðsson, Shelvey, or Ki on "the right." Britton is also an option in midfield, arguably the best at keeping possession. Tom Carroll, on loan from Tottenham, ain't bad either. Maybe one of those four is left out, with Montero or Dyer joining Routledge on the flanks – a quicker, more counter-attacking side – or with one of those two instead of Routledge. There's also a chance that Oliviera or Emnes start up top, as I'm not sure if Gomis will be available after fainting last week. Gomis and long-term casualty Kyle Bartley are Swansea's only injury concerns.

Regardless, this won't be like the last match against Swansea. Swansea cannot be as bad or as unlucky as they were at Anfield in December. Sure, Swansea are worse off just having lost Wilfred Bony – they took 1.56 points per game prior to the match at Liverpool, have taken 1.2 per game since – but that match had a fair few fluky elements. There was Fabianski's insane ricochet off Lallana. Shelvey's own goal. Liverpool deserved its win, but Liverpool's didn't necessarily deserve such a resounding win.

But Liverpool are in a far better state than they were on December 29. Unbeaten in 90 minutes in more than three months. Seven wins and one draw in their last eight league matches. Finally featuring an almost full complement of players, rested and refreshed after a week off. Currently two points from fourth (prior to United's match against Tottenham in a few hours), and if they win tomorrow, three points from third and four from second.

So, you know, just win tomorrow.

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