Milner 62' (pen)
Liverpool certainly made hard work of it. Liverpool again struggled at home, Liverpool again struggled against a packed-like-sardines defense. Liverpool needed a penalty that's given maybe 50% of the time. Liverpool took just 10 shots, Liverpool put just one non-penalty shot on-target (and I'm not convinced it was on-target, even though Fabianski "saved" it). Liverpool were under near constant pressure after finally scoring the opener.
But Liverpool won.
Liverpool won for the first time after a midweek Europa League match. Liverpool won its first Premier League home match against a side outside of the relegation zone. Liverpool won its first league home match under Jürgen Klopp.
Liverpool won. It'd have been better it Liverpool's performance were better, but Liverpool just had to win. And Liverpool won.
With Lucas absent through suspension and Coutinho absent through injury, Klopp went with a 4-3-3: Can as the single pivot holding midfield behind Lallana and Milner, with Firmino and Ibe floating around Benteke. And that formation controlled tempo and tenor – Can did surprisingly well as the deepest midfielder, for the first time that I can remember him playing in that position – and controlled possession, but simply could not create chances.
It's probably an entirely different match if Liverpool score in the 6th minute: a lovely quick transition, a Lallana throughball to Ibe, Ibe's poor touch but Bartley's tackle nearly leading to an own goal, but ricocheting off the post instead.
Liverpool dominated – absolutely dominated – for the next 20 minutes, without coming anywhere near a reward. They had just two shots to show for it: Lallana and Ibe from the right side of the box, swiftly blocked. Liverpool managed just three shots in the entire half: those two, and Moreno's 41st-minute free kick that sailed harmlessly over Swansea's goal. Swansea routinely had all 11 men in its own half, and often had 10 of them in their own box once Liverpool got into the final third.
And once Liverpool failed to take advantage of the early flurry, frustration set in. Post-Europa League fatigue probably set in as well, as both sides settled into a "you have some possession and try to attack and utterly fail, then we'll do that" groove.
The second half started as the first ended, although Liverpool finally put a shot on-target, the aforementioned Ibe chance that looked as if it'd go wide anyway. Liverpool's midfield were mainly in control, Liverpool limited Swansea's chances to counter, Liverpool's defense remained secure. But Liverpool couldn't create anything against a parked bus, until Ibe's cross hit Neil Taylor's arm in the 62nd minute. The referee looked happy to play on until he saw the linesman flagging furiously. As against Bordeaux, Milner stepped to the spot, and Milner scored. No penalties for 22 matches, then two in successive games. I'll gladly take it.
From there, Liverpool were pushed back. Swansea needed to respond, Liverpool needed to defend. And it got worse after Sturridge replaced Benteke with 20 minutes to go; Benteke, for his faults, for his mediocrity today, at least can hold possession for players to join the attack. That both Henderson and Sturridge came off the bench to make their first appearances under Klopp was the highlight of the final stages.
Well, that and Liverpool's defense. Because Liverpool held out, despite Swansea's possession, despite six Swansea corners over the final 15 minutes, despite Swansea needing a win as badly as Liverpool needed a win. No errors, Mignolet almost completely untroubled, and more-than-capable defending from all four of Liverpool's defenders. The Lovrenaissance (© The Liverpool Offside) continues unabated.
That'll do, especially with both Coutinho and Lucas missing, Henderson and Sturridge clearly nowhere near match-fit, the majority of the XI (especially in attack) not at their best after a busy week. A busy week where Liverpool won all three of its matches.
With United, Leicester, Arsenal, Tottenham, Everton, and West Ham all drawing this weekend, Liverpool make up ground on their rivals. Liverpool move up to sixth, just four points off fourth and six points off first. There are 24 league fixtures left, and Liverpool have won six, drawn three, and lost just once in Klopp's first 10 matches.
I've said it before, and it bears saying again: there's still quite a long way to go, there's still quite clearly improvement needed. But this is another positive step forward. Just in time for the perpetually busy, often annoying festive fixtures.