28 November 2015

Liverpool v Swansea 11.29.15

11:15am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
1-0 Liverpool (a) 03.16.15
4-1 Liverpool (h) 12.29.14
2-1 Liverpool (h; League Cup) 10.28.14
4-3 Liverpool (h) 02.23.14

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Bordeaux (h); 4-1 City (a) 1-2 Palace (h)
Swansea: 2-2 Bournemouth (h); 0-1 Norwich (a); 0-3 Arsenal (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Coutinho 5; Benteke 4; Ings, Sturridge 2; Firmino, Milner, Skrtel 1
Swansea: Ayew 6; Gomis 4; Sigurðsson 2; Shelvey 1

Referee: Anthony Taylor

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Skrtel Lovren Moreno
Milner Allen Can
Lallana Coutinho

The easy line-up question: Joe Allen will probably replace the suspended Lucas, although there's a very, very remote chance that Klopp attempts a two-man midfield of Milner and Can. I wouldn't.

The trickier questions are what formation will Liverpool play – 4-3-2-1 or 4-2-3-1 – and to Benteke or not to Benteke?

My suspicion is that it's the same XI and formation as against City, even though Liverpool are home, even though Liverpool are facing a side that'll look to defend and counter. The tight-spaces interplay between the front three was beyond phenomenal a week ago, and Liverpool will need to carve open tight spaces. Benteke has looked a bigger threat when used off the bench, when he's better able to truck tiring legs.

But there's an equal chance that Benteke starts, with one of Milner, Lallana, Firmino, or Coutinho left out. I obviously hope it's not Coutinho, but he is still carrying the slight hamstring strain suffered at City. In theory, and increasingly (even if not increasingly enough) in practice, Benteke's aerial ability and strength should also make space and create chances for Liverpool's diminutive attackers.

It's seemingly a good time to face Swansea. They've won just once in the last 10 matches. The home draws against Tottenham and Everton were at least acceptable, but 0-1 losses to Norwich, Stoke, and Watford, as well as a 1-3 defeat at Southampton, certainly weren't. There have been rumors about Garry Monk's employment status for more than a month now.

Swansea have no injury concerns, but like Lucas, Jonjo Shelvey is suspended for five yellow cards. It's better to not face Jonjo Shelvey. Jonjo Shelvey tends to be the void in these fixtures, the alpha and omega, the hub of good and bad and hilarity. Previous highlights include the 2-2 draw in 2013-14, when he had a hand in every goal; trying to start a fight with Balotelli in the 2-1 League Cup win last season; and his game-killing own goal in the 4-1 win last December.

Swansea's XI will likely be Fabianski; Naughton, Fernandez, Williams, Taylor; Ki, Cork; Ayew, Sigurðsson, Montero; Gomis. Maybe Routledge starts in place of Montero, maybe Britton instead of Cork. Last week against Bournemouth, Swansea made a number of changes to its usual lineup, going down 0-2 before at least getting back to honors even. I suspect we'll see a more familiar XI tomorrow.

The story of Swansea's attack this season has been if not Ayew or Gomis, no one. The former has six goals, the latter four; the only others to score in the league this season are Sigurðsson (2) and Shelvey (1). There's a lot of Benteke to Gomis' style of play, which at least is something that Skrtel usually enjoys. Ayew, ostensibly playing on the right of a 4-2-3-1, will counter and cut inside dangerously, which will put a lot of pressure on both Moreno – who, to the detriment of Liverpool's attack may have to limit his runs forward – and Lovren.

Swansea have won just one of their away matches this season, at bound-to-be-relegated Aston Villa, their only win during this ten-match run. Otherwise, they've drawn twice (Chelsea and Sunderland, the first two away matches of the season) and lost four (Watford, Hull, Southampton, Norwich).

But it's not as if Liverpool have been superlative at home either, as you're well aware. Liverpool have beaten just three teams at Anfield this season: Bournemouth (twice, 1-0 both times, in the league and league cup), Villa, and Bordeaux. Otherwise, five draws (Norwich, Carlisle, Sion, Kazan, Southampton) and two losses (West Ham, Crystal Palace). Eek.

Nor have Liverpool played anywhere near their best after this season's Europa League matches, yet to win after a midweek European contest. A draw against Norwich after a draw at Bordeaux, a draw at Everton after a draw against Sion, a draw against Southampton after a draw against Kazan, a loss to Palace after a win at Kazan.

Swansea have something to prove tomorrow: to get their season back on track, to save their manager, and to spite the club that fired their previous manager.

But Liverpool have much to prove as well.

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