21 January 2018

Liverpool at Swansea 01.22.18

3pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
5-0 Liverpool (h) 12.26.17
2-3 Swansea (h) 01.21.17
2-1 Liverpool (a) 10.01.16
1-3 Swansea (a) 05.01.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 4-3 City (h); 2-1 Everton (h); 2-1 Burnley (a)
Swansea: 2-1 Wolves (h); 1-1 Newcastle (a); 0-0 Wolves (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 18; Firmino 10; Coutinho 7; Mané 6; Oxlade-Chamberlain 3; Sturridge 2; Alexander-Arnold, Can, Henderson, Klavan, Lovren, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Swansea: Abraham, Ayew 4; Bony 2; Clucas, Fer, Mawson, Narsingh 1

Referee: Neil Swarbrick (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Trent A-A Matip van Dijk Robertson
Alex O-C Can Wijnaldum
Salah Firmino Mané

Despite the howlings of Liverpool Twitter, Karius will keep his place. Virgil van Dijk's back. Salah has recovered from illness, but neither Klavan nor Lovren trained on Saturday. Henderson and Moreno are also back in training but tomorrow's match probably comes too soon for either.

So the questions are the same as usual. Will it be Gomez or Alexander-Arnold at right-back? Which two from Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lallana, and Wijnaldum will play ahead of Can in midfield? We haven't seen the 4-4-2 in a while, but that'd be basically the same front six, with Mané on one flank, Oxlade-Chamberlain or Lallana on the other, and both Firmino and Salah up top. We've seen elements of that formation even when Liverpool are a more orthodox 4-3-3.

Incidentally, the above guess is damned close to the XI from the last meeting, with only Mané for Coutinho (*boo hiss*), van Dijk for Klavan, and Karius for Mignolet as changes.

Bottom of the table but Swansea have won twice, drawn twice, and lost once since Carlos Carvalhal took over after the last meeting between these sides. A win and draw came against Wolves in the FA Cup, but a late win over Watford in Carvalhal's first match, a draw at Newcastle, and a loss to Tottenham where Spurs only secured victory in the 89th minute is assuredly progress compared to what came before.

This probably won't be the same match as that on Boxing Day. 5-0 is always a big ask, even for a side with the firepower of Liverpool. And that 5-0 was somewhat misleading. Liverpool were exceptionally mediocre in the first half before pulling away in the second, as against Huddersfield, Maribor, and others earlier this season. Three of Liverpool's five goals had help from Swansea players. It was a comfortable win, but it wasn't as thorough a win as the score line would suggest.

And now they've a new manager. And now, they're in a better vein of form.

I've also very little idea how Swansea will line up tomorrow. 5-3-2 against Tottenham, 4-2-2-2 at Watford, 4-4-2 at Newcastle. Rangel's still out injured, Abraham and Sanches are doubtful, and while van der Hoorn looked a concern after going off against Newcastle, but returned to training on Friday.

With van der Hoorn available, we could well see the five-at-the-back that Swansea used to limit Tottenham, but let's guess something closer to the 4-4-2 from the last couple of matches. A 4-4-2 should ask more questions of Liverpool's defense than the 4-3-3 from last time, with Ayew decent on the counter and Bony excellent at hold-up play. A narrow 4-4-2, or even 4-2-2-2, would congest the center in their half of the pitch, where Liverpool will want to play when lacking in fast break opportunities against a deep-lying defense.

So something like Fabianski; Naughton, Fernandez, Mawson, Olsson; Dyer, Ki, Clucas, Carroll; Ayew, Bony. Fer and Mesa are other options in central midfield, Routledge and Narsingh are other options on the flanks, and, heck, maybe we get McBurnie up front against, as in the last meeting. This is a guessing game at the most-informed of times, and this is not one of those times.

And while Klopp et al are assuredly more informed than I, there's still something of an unknown about this side. This Swansea won't play the same as last month's Swansea, even with similar XIs. Liverpool have crapped the bad at least once a season in five of the six seasons since Swansea's promotion – including, as I suspect you remember, at Anfield a year ago. And, unsurprisingly given the home/away divide, Liverpool have had more problems at Swansea than at home, with two one-goal wins, two draws, and two losses at the Liberty Stadium since 2011-12.

But that also shouldn't matter if Liverpool do what Liverpool remain capable of doing. This should be a match that Liverpool wins – which, of course, always seems a dangerous feeling. As against City, Liverpool have had an extended break between matches – eight days since City, which came nine days after Everton – which allows for a harder pressing, higher velocity performance, even if that style will probably fare less well against how Swansea will set up. And after this week, midweek matches start again, both in the league and then Europe next month, not to mention any possible FA Cup replays that might pop up.

Still, it goes back to Liverpool doing what Liverpool can do. Both in attack and, yes, in defense. Creating lots of opportunities, from all angles, even if the best of them come from pressing and counters. Limiting opposition chances, which seems even more likely with van Dijk at the back.

Go get your goals, go get three more points.

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