30 April 2016

Liverpool at Swansea 05.01.16

7am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
1-0 Liverpool (h) 11.29.15
1-0 Liverpool (a) 03.16.15
4-1 Liverpool (h) 12.29.14
2-1 Liverpool (h; League Cup) 10.28.14

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-1 Villarreal (a); 2-2 Newcastle (h); 4-0 Everton (h)
Swansea: 0-4 Leicester (a); 0-3 Newcastle (a); 1-0 Chelsea (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Firmino 9; Coutinho, Sturridge 8; Benteke 7; Milner, Origi 5; Lallana 4; Henderson, Ings 2; Allen, Can, Clyne, Moreno, Sakho, Skrtel, Toure 1
Swansea: Sigurðsson 11; A Ayew 8; Gomis 5; Paloschi, Williams 2; Barrow, Fernandez, Ki SY, Routledge, Shelvey 1

Referee: Roger East

Guess at a line-up:
Flanagan Skrtel Lovren Smith
Milner Stewart
Ojo Lallana Ibe

Another league match sandwiched between vastly more important European contests, another match where we'll see heavy rotation but little clue exactly who will be playing in what formation.

Sturridge is definitely starting up front, Stewart's definitely starting in midfield, Ward's definitely starting in goal, at least one of Ojo and Ibe (and probably both) are starting on the flanks, Smith and either Randall or Flanagan are probably starting at full-back, Skrtel's probably (sigh) starting in central defense. From there, it's a matter of who Klopp trusts to be able to play three matches in a week and what formation best matches Swansea's 4-2-3-1.

Central defense? Who's better able to play three times in seven days: Lovren, Toure, or Lucas? Will Lucas even play next Thursday, in midfield or central defense?

Full-back? Flanagan probably won't start, considering this article on his recovery from yesterday, but I'd still trust him more against Jefferson Montero than I would Connor Randall.

Midfield? It's probably either Allen or Milner with Stewart – maybe Lucas, in an even less attack-capable duo – unless Klopp continues with the 4-3-3 we saw against Villarreal or the 4-4-2 diamond we saw against Newcastle, or either Brannagan or Chirivella get a surprise start along with Stewart. I'm always in favor of playing players against their former club, but I still suspect Milner will get the nod over Allen just because of his fitness levels. Unless Klopp's initially planning on a Lucas-Milner midfield next Thursday, that is.

Attack? Again, who's better able to play three times in seven days, and to play in the #10 position behind Sturridge? Coutinho, who was ill on Thursday? An out-of-form Firmino? Lallana? Regardless, the attack is going to be the Daniel Sturridge Show, with a massive, massive point to prove after being left out at Villarreal. You thought his ten shots at Bournemouth was egregious? I wouldn't be surprised if he takes 15 tomorrow.

Maybe Liverpool go with a 4-4-2 diamond, something like Stewart; Allen, Milner; Lallana/Firmino; Sturridge, Benteke – pretty much the XI which started adequately but then threw away two goals and couldn't get back into the game against Newcastle – but that also seems doubtful, and leaves no place for either Ibe or Ojo, both fresh, needing game time, and with points to prove.

It will be a much-changed side. And, for the most part, these much-changed sides have done well, not counting last weekend's second-half capitulation. At this stage of the season, it's all about managing resources while still trying to accrue acceptable results. We know where Liverpool's priorities lie.

Swansea, at the bottom of the mid-table pile but almost certainly safe from relegation – but would be absolutely mathematically safe with a win tomorrow – have been decent at home and very, very bad away lately. They're coming off 0-3 and 0-4 losses against Newcastle and Leicester respectively, which hopefully is a sign that they're already on the beach for the summer, but they've also lost just twice at home in 2016: 2-4 against Sunderland back in January and 0-1 against Southampton back in February. Since Boxing Day, Swansea's home record is 5W-1D-2L, with wins over West Brom, Watford, Norwich, Villa, and Chelsea. All five of those wins have been 1-0. The aforementioned 2-4 defeat to Sunderland was the only time that Swansea conceded more than once in the last nine home matches, with six clean sheets during that stretch.

Incidentally, the result when these sides met at Anfield in November? 1-0 to the home team.

Will we get the "tough to beat at home, grind you down" Swansea or the "season's over, don't care" Swansea which conceded seven in its last two matches? Whichever Swansea it is will be missing both Fer and Paloschi with hamstring injuries, which certainly doesn't help their cause, but they have replacements: either Britton or Ki for Fer, either Gomis or Barrow or even Routledge (with Ayew moving into a striker's role). The most likely XI seems to be Fabianski; Rangel, Fernandez, Williams, Taylor; Britton, Cork; Ayew, Sigurðsson, Montero; Gomis.

We all know which is Liverpool's more important match this week. But that doesn't wholly detract from tomorrow's contest. A chance to put the Newcastle result right, a chance to put the Villarreal result right. A chance for players to force their way into contention for Thursday, a chance for players to force their way into contention for more meaningful fixtures in the future, both this season and next.

The season ain't over yet, the league campaign ain't over yet. There's still much for Liverpool to do, in both of the competitions they're still in.

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