Thanks to some dramatic moments in the final minutes, Liverpool overcame a poor start to see Swansea City off thanks to goals from two players frequently derided by fans this season. The performance wasn't pretty, but the job is done, and Liverpool are on to the next round of the League Cup.
After a first half that was, in a word, boring, Liverpool fell behind in the second half thanks to horrific defending and a pretty volley from Marvin Emnes, and from there it seemed like another flat, gutless performance was going to doom Liverpool once again this season. Fortunately, since not too many people care about the League Cup these days, it was hard to get too worked up about it.
Then on to the pitch stepped Mario Balotelli, and with almost his first touch Liverpool had equalized. Fabio Borini, who had perhaps his best match in a Liverpool shirt, had worked his way down the right and fired in a gorgeous cross to the far post, where Balotelli was waiting after using his athleticism to launch his way free of his marker. In typical Balotelli fashion, he simply picked the ball up and ran back to midfield for the restart, but you could see it all on his face: that goal let off a ton of pressure for the Italian striker.
Then, just before the 90th minute, Liverpool got a huge break. Swansea defender Federico Fernandez wiped out Philippe Coutinho with a two-footed challenge, and the ref didn't even hesitate before he showed the Argentine a red card. The challenge looked a lot worse in live action than it did on replays, which showed that Fernandez kept his studs down, but the fact remained that no matter the quality of the ref's decision, Liverpool were a man up and had a chance to snatch win in a game that, just minutes before, it looked like they were fated to lose.
And that's exactly what they did. Dejan Lovren got free at the far post on a free kick and thundered home a header despite Gerhard Tremmel's best efforts, and Liverpool were victorious. It had looked so unlikely, but there it was; not only had Liverpool come from behind to win, but two of the season's most picked-on players were the heroes of the day.
While the final scoreline was wonderful, there were still a lot of systemic and personnel issues that plagued Liverpool today. This side struggled badly with the 4-2-3-1 formation that Brendan Rodgers continues to insist on throwing on to the pitch. It's a formation that can work, as really almost any can, but Liverpool don't have the right strikers that can play up top on their own. Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert, and even Daniel Sturridge are much, much better with a partner, and a #10 in the hole behind the striker doesn't count.
Whether the answer is a diamond, a 4-2-2-2, or maybe even a return to a 3-5-2 just for giggles, something's gotta give. Too many teams have figured out that once you mark out that lone striker, Liverpool struggle. Just in the last ten days, each of QPR, Hull City, and now Swansea City gave Liverpool fits just by containing the man up top and playing compact enough everywhere else to cut down on Liverpool's passing options. These were all teams that Liverpool should have wiped the floor with, but instead they struggled to two comeback wins and a scoreless draw.
Then there's the defensive woes. The ball that Emnes volleyed home took not one but two deflections off Liverpool defenders in its way to him, then found him unmarked with Kolo Toure five yards away for no apparent reason. Kolo, I love ya, I do, but... dude. Dude. That was as bad as the Backpass From Hell last winter.
Despite the lumps, there's a lot of good to take from this match. Borini was awesome. Coutinho was very, very good. Balotelli scored. Lovren had probably his best defensive shift of the season. Jordan Henderon served well as captain. Lucas Leiva looked good for the first time in way too long. Javier Manquillo was a boss. Once more of these individual performances start gelling in to great shifts as a team again, Liverpool will be a force to be reckoned with. Hopefully that day comes soon.