20 January 2017

Liverpool v Swansea 01.21.17

7:30am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
2-1 Liverpool (a) 10.01.16
1-3 Swansea (a) 05.01.15
1-0 Liverpool (h) 11.29.15
1-0 Liverpool (a) 03.16.15

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-0 Plymouth Argyle (a); 1-1 United (a); 0-1 Southampton (a)
Swansea: 0-4 Arsenal (h); 0-2 Hull (a); 2-1 Crystal Palace (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Mané 9; Lallana 7; Firmino, Milner 6; Coutinho 5; Origi 4; Can 3; Lovren, Sturridge, Wijnaldum 2; Henderson, Matip 1
Swansea: Fer, Llorente 6; Sigurðsson 5; Routledge 2; Baston, Maison, Rangel, van der Hoorn 1

Referee: Kevin Friend

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Lovren Klavan Milner
Can Henderson Wijnaldum
Lallana Firmino Coutinho

We're almost back to full-strength Liverpool. It's very much needed.

I'm annoyed to say, and it's probably reactionary given how and who Liverpool have played recently, but neither Sturridge nor Origi have done enough in recent weeks to get another start now that almost everyone's fit.

As of Klopp's press conference an hour ago, FIFA hadn't been in touch about Joël Matip. Which has caught everyone by surprise, I know. There's still a few hours before close of business but, knowing FIFA, chances are Liverpool are without him for no good reason again.

There's better news on Nat Clyne, back in full training for the first time since his rib injury. Which probably makes him 50-50 or so for tomorrow. Alexander-Arnold could deputize again, growing into the game after a tough start at United and one of Liverpool's better players (especially the best defender) once Plymouth needed to attack on Wednesday. But if Clyne's even close to fit enough, Clyne will play, as per usual.

Otherwise, everyone's available except Sadio Mané, at the African Cup of Nations and scoring for fun, having tallied in both of Senegal's matches so far. Most importantly, both Coutinho and Henderson are back, the former in line for his first league start since injury two months ago.

Liverpool have desperately missed both, especially Coutinho. Yes, they've already featured in a couple of games, but building up match fitness takes time, especially in the case of a player who missed two months. You're probably sick of me writing it, but Liverpool are still yet to score an open play goal in 2017, having tallied from three corners and the penalty spot in the five games so far. Liverpool's lone win in those five games came on Wednesday, that narrow 1-0 victory at League Two Plymouth Argyle, a match that would've gone to extra time had Jake Jervis' 75th-minute set play clear-cut chance gone inside rather than onto the post.

We need Liverpool to be a lot better than they've been since the start of the month.

Meanwhile, Swansea make no sense. They should not be this bad. They should not be in such disarray.

Gylfi Sigurðsson's great. Ki Sung-yueng and Jack Cork are competent midfielders; Routledge, Dyer, and Fer are competent attackers who've drifted around the league for years, valuable players in admittedly mediocre-to-bad teams. Both Amat and Fernandez have stifled Liverpool attackers in previous contests. Llorente's still scoring, at age 31 in his first Premiership season. Borja Baston is the club's record signing and he's started all of four league matches.

They're on their third manager of the season – this'll be Paul Clement's third match; they're yet to win or draw and yet to score – and the fourth if you count Alan Curtis' two games as caretaker.

They've conceded 49 goals in 21 league matches, which is near-record pace. They've conceded three goals in seven matches, four goals in three matches, and five goals in one. They've conceded 8.2% of all the Premier League goals scored this season.

They've lost six of their last seven matches, six in the league and one in the FA Cup, outscored 20-4 in those seven matches.

And yet, they're only two points from safety, and two rather than one solely because of goal difference, because Palace, Hull, and Sunderland have been nearly as bad.

And yet, they gave Liverpool an incredibly difficult time in the reverse fixture last October, unlucky to not get at least a point after honest-to-goodness dominating the first half and then missing a clear-cut chance to equalize in second-half injury time.

And yet, in Paul Clement's first league match as manager last weekend, they were actually good against Arsenal until they very much weren't, the better side until conceding against the run of play and then blown away 4-0. After the 37th-minute opener, they gave Arsenal two own goals and an Routledge error leading to the fourth.

Swansea make no sense.

And given that Swansea make no sense, I'm at a loss to guess the XI. Chances are it won't be what I'd pick without context, knowing most of the players but not especially aware of form or relation to teammates or manager.

Chances are, it'll look like the team that lost against Arsenal, but with one or two changes from a manager still getting to know his squad. Something like Fabianski; Naughton, Fernandez, Mawson, Olsson; Cork, Carroll; Sigurðsson, Fer, Routledge; Llorente. Both Carroll and Olsson are new signings, the former in hopes of fixing what's been a bafflingly bad midfield (Leon Britton doesn't even make the match day squad anymore), the latter adding pace to a stolid back-line and depth with perma-fixture Neil Taylor out for an extended spell. Barrow, Montero, and Narsingh join Taylor on the injury list.

There's seemingly two ways this goes. Ideally, a nearly full-strength Liverpool finds its form – specifically its goalscoring form – against not good opposition at Anfield, and we get something in the vein of 5-1 Hull or 6-1 Watford. Even with Liverpool struggling for goals and Swansea likely to be better than they have been, it's possible, considering Swansea's form and that it's at Anfield. But – and maybe it's my perpetual pessimism – just as likely is a Swansea revival, able to do what Sunderland, Plymouth, and others have done to Liverpool lately, as Liverpool most notably continue to stutter in front of goal, better at the back in recent weeks but still prone to calamity.

How it goes is up to Liverpool.

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