A match that lacked in quality made up for it with entertainment, eventually at Liverpool's expense, as a second-half equalizer from Michu left each side with a point after a lively first half. Again we saw Brendan Rodgers opt for a restrained, defensive style to protect a lead, only this time Liverpool couldn't make it stand up, and they've now dropped their first points of the season. That's disappointing, sure, but for a side still evolving its identity and missing a number of their key first-teamers through injury, it's hardly reason for panic.
Swansea 2: Shelvey 2', Michu 64'
Liverpool 2: Sturridge 4', Moses 36'
As the buildup was almost entirely about Jonjo Shelvey--there was an uncomfortably long circling of the former Liverpool midfielder waiting for the opening whistle by the on-pitch cameraman--it was only fitting that he'd dominate the early proceedings, first giving his side the lead after ninety seconds and then gifting Daniel Sturridge the opportunity to draw level with his fourth goal in four games to start the season.
Shelvey's opener was well-taken, no doubt, but the circumstances leading up to it were more down to defensive errors from Liverpool rather than Shelvey. First Steven Gerrard switched off, and then debutante Mamadou Sakho pulled out of the tackle rather than engage, giving the midfielder an open look at goal. He was initially denied by Martin Skrtel's excellent sliding tackle, but the rebound fell fortuitously, leaving Shelvey free to curl past Simon Mignolet with his left foot.
He turned provider for his former teammate less than two minutes later, though, absentmindedly rolling a slow pass back toward Michel Vorm. It was clear that he never saw a darting Sturridge, who had anticipated the pass perfectly and swept in to level the score just four minutes in.
Liverpool were well on top from there, pushing Swansea back into their own half and enjoying plenty of the ball. They nearly had a second Sturridge goal to celebrate through some excellent Victor Moses work on the far side; the winger somehow worked his way through two defenders and floated a cross toward Sturridge, whose header back across goal was saved well by Vorm.
Ten minutes after nearly creating Liverpool's second, Moses got one of his own, latching onto another errant Shelvey pass and beating Vorm with a low drive after a simple run towards goal. As had been the case for the most of the half, Moses proved effective, confident, and efficient in taking the goal, and it had Liverpool up 2-1 at the break despite another Swansea surge over the final ten minutes, the highlight of which saw Skrtel save a sure goal from Wilfried Bony after Mignolet had only just tipped away a shot by Michu.
And as has been the case in each of their three wins in the Premier League, Liverpool's gradual sag toward the end of the first half became the norm in the second, with Swansea capitalizing on the absence of an active and dangerous Philippe Coutinho through injury. The Brazilian had been among Liverpool's best on the day, but a late and cynical foul from Ashley Williams forced Brendan Rodgers to bring on Iago Aspas in the 54th minute.
From there it was all Swansea, and Michu's equalizer ten minutes later was the least they could have expected. Again it was Shelvey at the heart as the hosts drew level, as he laid a wonderful header back into the path of the onrushing Spaniard, who beat Andre Wisdom to the ball and lashed a low drive past Mignolet.
Rodgers brought on Kolo Toure and switched Liverpool's shape over the final stages of the match, and eventually replaced the tiring Moses with the fresh legs of Raheem Sterling. Little changed about the flow of the match, unfortunately, as Liverpool were done pushing back and had to resort to an all-out defensive effort yet again, this time to save only one point rather than three.
There was a strong reaction in some corners to the second-half performance, citing a distinct lack of bravery from the manager and a general lack of ambition tactically that seemed to indicate that a draw was all Liverpool were playing for. And that's fair enough, I suppose, as it's the fourth consecutive league match in which the side were anything but ambitious in the second half, and without having the lead, that's a style that always going to be accused of protecting something. And when you're protecting just a point, you're not trying to win, and history and status and Shankly quote and all that.
Any outrage or doom and gloom on the heels of this one would be unjustified, though, and the energy is better directed both at the areas in which Liverpool still need to strengthen and with the fact that they remain unbeaten and on top of the league table after four matches. That might not mean anything in terms of where they'll land in May, but for now it means that they've managed to learn some important lessons through their first four matches while still gathering ten points.
That shouldn't erase any of the very valid concerns today's display revealed--Andre Wisdom might be the future in the middle but he's far from the present at right-back, Mamadou Sakho showed plenty of the rust you'd expect from a player who hasn't seen regular match action for an extended spell, and Iago Aspas again underlined the fact that he's got plenty of adapting to do if he's going to be the versatile option up front that we were expected. And, once again, we're left questioning if a Liverpool midfield with Steven Gerrard nailed-on for ninety minutes is actually the best thing for them.
There were some very valid positives as well, with Daniel Sturridge keeping up his scoring despite fitness nowhere near his best, Martin Skrtel again hugely impressive at the back, Simon Mignolet saving points even though he allowed his first two goals of the Premier League season, and Victor Moses' instant impact and improvement on Liverpool's attacking contingent, which was again supported by the work of Jordan Henderson, who at times filled three or four different roles simultaneously.
A win today would have probably been better than a draw, and no doubt that while the early season results have been largely encouraging, there's questions to be asked about the quality of the performances. But a draw doesn't mean Liverpool's points from the first three wins of the season are suddenly taken away, or that we're destined to watch the same display over and again. Yesterday the talk was all about progress and resilience, and two dropped points against Swansea doesn't change that.
Progress demands that things aren't perfect, and resilience demands adversity. On Monday night in Wales, you could argue that Liverpool enjoyed and endured all of the above.