Out-pressed in the first-half by a relentless host midfield, Liverpool survived Mike van der Hoorn’s incredible injury-time miss to complete a second-half turnaround against a spent Swansea City.
Swansea supremo Francesco Guidolin must have been paying close attention to Sky‘s most recent edition of Monday Night Football, during which his opposite number Jurgen Klopp outlined the particulars of his famed gegenpressing philisophy.
For it was the under-fire Italian’s troops who demonstrated greater timing and tenacity in their pressing actions during the first-half at the Liberty Stadium, where the Swans completed twice as many tackles as their hard-running visitors.
Led by the energetic Jack Cork on the left of their central midfield triangle, Guidolin’s side ensured that goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski did not face a single shot on target, by smothering Liverpool’s in-form creators and creating several quality counter-attacking opportunities in the process.
By the time the half-hour mark was chalked up, new arrival Borja Baston should have added two more goals to Leroy Fer’s 8th-minute opener. Liverpool found the former Atletico striker’s aerial ability difficult to handle, particular from Gylfi Sigurdsson’s set-pieces, from which Klopp’s out-and-out zonal marking system again looked vulnerable.
Ultimately, an initially pre-eminent Swansea paid handsomely however, both for their profligacy in front of goal and their continued frenzied pressing in the opener’s aftermath. Tired Swansea legs, paired with two other noteworthy contributory factors created the conditions for Klopp’s side to strike back.
During a late first-half Liverpool resurgence, it became apparent that the visitors’ best chance of a breakthrough lay on the right-flank, where Sigurdsson’s inwardly-drifting tendencies were allowing right-back Nathaniel Clyne to advance unimpeded.
Just prior to half-time, Clyne and right-sided forward Sadio Mané won a corner-kick apiece, from which Dejan Lovren and Roberto Firmino saw penalty-area strikes blocked by Swansea defenders.
Meanwhile, Adam Lallana’s 23rd-minute injury-enforced departure, facilitated a shift into the central spotlight from a previously peripheral Philippe Coutinho.
From tallies of zero in the game’s opening quarter, the Brazilian worked up totals of five dribbles and four key passes – both game-highs – after his move into the midfield triangle.
Up against an already exhausted Fer, who was eventually removed in the 72nd minute, Coutinho orchestrated a new-found penetration of weary Swansea lines, with the Clyne/Mané right-flank overload continuing to hold particular potential.
Mané had a big chance blocked by van der Hoorn early on, and won the free-kick, from a flagging Leon Britton, from which Firmino converted Jordan Henderson’s second bite at the cherry into an equaliser.
Fresh midfield legs, in the shape of Ki-Sung Yeung, Jay Fulton and the pacey Modou Barrow stopped the rot for the hosts, but the latter, who has never looked up to the required technical standard, produced the pathetic attempted clearance that tempted right-back Angel Rangel into conceding Liverpool’s fourth penalty-kick of the season.
No team has won more 12-yarders than Klopp’s, but there is no conspiracy; as the most frequent dribblers-per-game, the Reds are likely to win more than their peers.
Klopp made a couple of late changes of his own to run down the clock, including the introduction of striker-by-trade Divock Origi in a left-wing role. Although Guidolin’s spent charges did not look like producing an equaliser, Origi’s defensive irresponsibility very nearly handed them one.
In the third minute of injury-time, Origi failed to re-assume his defensive position, allowing Swansea to work an overload on Coutinho on the right flank. Rangel swung the resultant deep cross into the area, where centre-back van der Hoorn was one of several back-post bodies waiting unmarked to sweep it in.
Improbably, the Dutchman failed to do so with the goal at his mercy. Liverpool’s three-point haul was fortunately spared, but the impression of their manager as one with a front-foot fixation who neglects the more staid elements of the game also remains.