21 January 2017

Liverpool 2-3 Swansea

Llorente 48' 52'
Firmino 55' 69'
Sigurðsson 74'

2017 remains an uncontrollable, inexhaustible garbage fire.

We got every single bit of Bad Liverpool, in separate phases. A dire attack against nine defenders for the entire first half, as in almost every 2017 match so far. Dumb and avoidable concessions from a corner then cross in quick succession after halftime. Liverpool finally starting to play after going 0-2 down and actual hope with two goals in 14 minutes from Firmino to equalize, but then an unlikely Swansea winner five minutes later on a counter, unable to stop the attack before a Liverpool player accidentally set up the goalscorer.

Three goals conceded from three shots on target. Each one the type of goal that Liverpool had been prone to conceding but had been better about not conceding lately: the second ball from a corner, a towering header over (multiple) defenders, and both stupid and unlucky on the counter-attack when vainly and fruitlessly for the go-ahead goal.

Against the bottom side in the league. Who hadn't scored three goals away from home in the league all season. Who'd conceded three or more goals in 11 of 21 league matches this season. Who'd lost six of their last seven games by a 20-4 margin. Who'd never won at Anfield. Ever. For Liverpool's first loss at Anfield in 370 days.

It'd be unbelievable if it weren't, you know, Liverpool.

There is literally zero consolation here. There are almost no positives except for Firmino's almost single-handed fight-back, which is muted by all the evil which came before and after.

It's been hidden by the horrific results and three different managers, but Swansea had shown at least bits of this potential before. The reverse fixture was one of Liverpool's worst performances of the season, only a Liverpool win because of exceptionally bad Swansea finishing (which was not the case today) and more single-handed Firmino heroics in scoring the equalizer and earning the penalty winner. 4-0 at Arsenal is one of those results which doesn't do the match justice, Swansea the better side until Giroud's goal from a fortunate deflection, then proceeding to collapse, giving Arsenal two own goals then a late defensive error.

The first goal matters. As it did today.

Swansea's plan worked better than Liverpool's plan. A side that'd been free-flowing before Coutinho's injury and before Liverpool had to play two matches per week almost every week for the last two months once again wasn't. Nearly every Swansea player sat in Swansea's half for the entire first half. Four defenders, three central midfielders, and two very deep wingers blocked off pretty much everything in the final third, coupled with an incredible performance from Llorente on Henderson, closing down Liverpool's necessary metronome at every opportunity.

And it led to the first time this season that Liverpool's been held without a shot on-target in a first half at Anfield this season. The only other times it's happened this season were the 1-0 win at Everton and (*drum roll*) 2-1 win at Swansea.

Then that second half happened. And, while Llorente was boss and thoroughly punished Liverpool, it was much more about what Liverpool both did and failed to do than what Swansea did.

Swansea's first attack of the half, which only resulted in a corner because Lovren idiotically tried to head a hopeful cross over the lone attacker back to Mignolet and completely failed. Then, Lovren lost Fernandez on the ball in, and Swansea reacted quicker than Liverpool to the scramble. Four minutes later, Swansea break, literally from a failed Liverpool attack because Coutinho tried to center to Lallana instead of shooting from inside the box and put it two yards behind him. Nice interplay from new signings Carroll and Olsson, then Carroll's cross to Llorente, who's surrounded by three Liverpool defenders (Milner, Wijnaldum, Klavan, responsible in that order). Llorente wins easily.

0-2 down, 52 minutes gone, and hey, welcome to the match Liverpool thank you for showing up. Liverpool's 16th cross of the match finally leads to something: good from Milner and even better from Firmino to get in front of Olsson and head past Fabianski. 14 minutes later, even better from Firmino, good control from Wijnaldum to get into space on the left but a lofted, hopeful cross in. But Firmino's chest control to take away two defenders and left-footer on the half-volley and woof.

2-2 against the bottom side in the league who'd conceded that many goals, and at Anfield. 25 or so minutes to play. One point is the absolute minimum and three should be likely, no matter how the first 55 minutes went.


Less than five minutes later, Liverpool have basically everyone forward, but the attack breaks down and Fabianski claims. A hopeful kick long. Swansea win the second ball, then Llorente holds up play up excellently to allow attackers to get forward. Fer gets away from two, Llorente finds space in front of Lovren to set up Carroll, and somehow Klavan's tackle falls perfectly for a wide open Sigurðsson. Disappointing And Unlucky: The Liverpool Story. Throwing Away Points In The Last 20 Minutes of Matches: The Liverpool Story.

And from there, toilet. Liverpool back to being unable to break Swansea down, the lone noteworthy chances in quick succession from Lallana, first a lucky ricochet deflected onto the bar then a header over. Substitutions that didn't help Liverpool, and probably made them worse.

First, Sturridge for Coutinho – inoffensive rather than troublesome, Sturridge unable to make a difference but not really changing proceedings in either direction, with Coutinho only able to complete 56 minutes probably what bothers me most. Then, Origi for Can, planned before Liverpool's equalizer but still gone through with after scoring. That unbalanced Liverpool. Maybe it doesn't help, maybe it does, but having Can as at least another body in midfield – no matter how mediocre (at best) he was today – makes stopping Swansea's third at least slightly more likely. Origi's total contribution probably equalled Sturridge – the former put a tame shot on-target, the latter created the chance for Lallana's header, and that's about it from either – but the effect was to further unbalance a side that had actually started to get its act together. This is not the first time that's happened (*glares at the Bournemouth result again*).

2017 has started in the worst possible manner. And Liverpool are in deep, deep trouble. Despite results like today's (and Burnley, and Bournemouth, and Sunderland, and ...), Liverpool remain a reasonably good side, at least usually – in goals scored, chances created, and shots allowed. Much better than previous seasons. Analytics still really like this side, and they also pass the eye test more often than not, even without Mané or Coutinho, which admittedly makes life that much harder.

Reasonably good is not good enough this season. Nowhere near good enough. Not with the rest of the Top 6 playing like they are. Liverpool could be fifth by the end of the day, just two points ahead of sixth, which is currently a side they were ten points ahead of less than two months ago. Manchester City is currently the only side in that group stuttering as Liverpool's stuttered – the other four have been excellent – and you look at City's squad then Liverpool's and it's not hard to wonder who has a better shot of fixing things quicker.

There are 16 matches left in this league campaign. Liverpool will have to fight like hell, and dramatically improve, to even remain in the Champions League places.

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