Swansea City stunned high-flying Liverpool with a smash and grab 1-0 victory over the Reds at the Liberty Stadium on Tuesday morning in a spirited display.
The first 45 minutes was starved of real attacking chances and quality, Swansea were intent on sitting back in defence from the first whistle, limiting the spaces that Liverpool could work into.
Alfie Mawson stole the lead for the Swans in the 40th minute, as Liverpool failed to clear their lines and Mawson reacted first, finishing excellently into the bottom-left corner.
Swansea continued to frustrate their visitors in the second half, limiting them to only half-chances as the Reds continued to push for the equaliser.
Danny Ings came close to finding the goal, before Roberto Firmino hit the post front point-blank range right at the death, and Adam Lallana was unable to bundle in the rebound, meaning that Liverpool left Wales empty-handed.
Emre Can given the armband
With skipper Jordan Henderson and vice-captain James Milner both absent from the Starting XI, Liverpool needed a stand-in captain for this match.
Throughout the season, Philippe Coutinho, Simon Mignolet and Dejan Lovren have all worn the armband, but for different reasons all three of them were also missing, leaving Can to step in.
It was a bold decision from Jurgen Klopp to give his compatriot the captaincy for this match, with rumours of a proposed move to Juventus at the expiration of his contract continuing to persist.
The midfielder has stressed that nothing is agreed with anyone and he is remaining in talks with Liverpool, and this honour is perhaps a showing of faith from his current manager, and could factor into his decision.
A defensive masterclass
Swansea manger Carlos Carvalhal said before this match the had a game plan to try to thwart Liverpool, and it was one that was perfectly executed.
The hosts were simply fantastic in defence, as they nullified all of the Reds’ threat and stopped their attacking firepower from coming to the fore.
The back three of Alfie Mawson, Mike van der Hoorn and Federico Fernandez were spectacular in staunching Liverpool’s attack, while Kyle Naughton was particularly excellent at right wing-back, with one specific tackle stopping a certain goal for Andrew Robertson.
Leroy Fer patrolled the midfield and aided his defence to great effect, setting the example for the rest of the players around him to follow.
It was not just a case of the defenders, but each member of the team was committed to doing their role defensively, and in the end the whole unit worked together to perfection.
The Swans sat deep in their own half, forcing Joel Matip and Virgil van Dijk to have to carry the ball forward and essentially run into a dead end. They limited Liverpool to sideways passes and speculative long-range shots at goal, and did not allow space in behind for the likes of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane to exploit their pace.
Liverpool had 21 shots in this game but just four on target, indicative of the lack of clear-cut chances that were able to be created as a result of Swansea’s superb defensive display.
Swansea refreshed from Anfield drubbing
In all areas of the pitch, Swansea looked like a completely new team when compared with the one that was beaten 5-0 at Anfield a month ago.
Jordan Ayew was particularly poor at Anfield that evening, but in this match he was one of the best players on the pitch, working tirelessly both with and without the ball for the whole match.
Fer was another one who upped his performance, as the crowd at the Liberty Stadium got behind their team and encouraged them over the line.
At Anfield, Swansea lacked character, intensity and desire, and that result ultimately cost Paul Clement his job. The players looked like they were defeated before the match had even started, and they never showed enough to put up any resistance at all.
However, now under new management, the Swans had renewed belief, as they came onto the pitch and were not overawed by Liverpool’s quality, taking the game right up to their more superior performance.
In the end, despite the statistical breakdown indicating otherwise, Swansea were fully deserving of the three points, in what will hopefully be a turning point for them in their battle for survival.
Liverpool’s inconsistency continues
Everyone involved with Liverpool was on a high last week after they defeated the side at the top of the table, but within just eight days they have lost to the side on the bottom.
This is as telling a scenario as any for the club, as these showings of inconsistency and losses of concentration are becoming far too common for a side at the top end of the table.
It was another set piece that undid the Liverpool defence. New signing Virgil van Dijk, who is being hailed as Liverpool’s potential saviour at the back, dealt with the original header, but there was nobody around him to defend the second ball as Mawson fired home.
The result and the concession of the goal will be of concern to Jurgen Klopp, and will give perhaps give him some decisions to make approaching the latter stages of the season.
Despite the result, Liverpool should not panic. Their 18-match unbeaten run should not be ignored and fans need to recognise that one loss will not derail their season, and the team will put this result behind them and continue to push on for the remainder of the campaign.