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Liverpool 4, Swansea 3: Relief as Reds Earn Narrow Win

Liverpool come out on top in an ugly match on Sunday afternoon at Anfield, getting two goals apiece from Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson for a narrow, nervy 4-3 victory.

Clive Brunskill

Liverpool 4: Sturridge 3' 36', Henderson 20' 74'
Swansea 3: Shelvey 23', Bony 27' (pen.) 47'

Brendan Rodgers mind-gamed us all by picking a mostly expected eleven; Joe Allen started on the bench after the manager had talked about the potential to bring him in for Jordan Henderson, while Daniel Agger and Glen Johnson made their first Premier League starts in over a month. The rest was unchanged, with Jon Flanagan remaining on the right and Daniel Sturridge, Luis Suarez, and Raheem Sterling in attack.

And as they've been wont to do at Anfield, Liverpool scored in the opening minutes, with Sterling playing Sturridge into space with a lovely pass on the outside of his right foot. Sturridge rounded Michel Vorm with ease and passed into the empty net, ostensibly sending the hosts on their way. Swansea's response was impressive, though, and they put Liverpool on the back foot almost immediately.

Which made Liverpool's second seem cruel given the run of play; the visitors were more aggressive and assertive, but one moment at the other end--again involving Sturridge--looked to strip them of any chance at points. The striker had possession on the right flank and drifted inward, eventually playing it in to Henderson, who was left alone at the edge of the penalty area to control, pick his spot, and fire a perfect shot into the top corner past a rooted Vorm.

So 2-0 and on their way to another drubbing, but then five minutes after the celebrations were over it was 2-2. Jonjo Shelvey hit an unstoppable curler in the 23rd minute, again finding himself in acres of space, and just three and a half minutes later the match was level through a deflected Wilfried Bony header. Thankfully Sturridge got another to give Liverpool a 3-2 lead, heading in a perfect Suarez cross to give the home side the advantage at the break.

It didn't last long, of course, as Martin Skrtel was judged to have dragged down Bony in the 47th minute, and the Ivorian beat Simon Mignolet from the spot to once again draw the match level. Liverpool gradually worked their way back into the match, though, and Henderson's second proved to be the match winner with a quarter of an hour left. A trailing run into space saw him positioned perfectly to punch a blocked Suarez shot at Vorm, who made a terrific reaction save but couldn't parry wide enough to avoid Henderson slotting in the rebound to settle the match at 4-3.

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That was a really strange match, which is about as much analysis as I can muster. On the surface it was the same old Liverpool, scoring effortless goals at Anfield and looking to eviscerate the opposition rather than just win. But even when they were 1-0 up it wasn't convincing, and it wasn't 2-0 long enough to pretend things were comfortable. This had the makings of another Aston Villa or West Brom performance were it not for the finishing, and there were more than a few reasons for concern, even if it's another important three points.

Liverpool's defense continues to struggle with neither of Daniel Agger nor Martin Skrtel acquitting themselves well, while Jon Flanagan had a bumpy outing and Glen Johnson--as you'd expect--looked off the pace at times. Steven Gerrard was exposed in the first half by the simultaneous pressing of Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho; at times they got forward along with Flanagan and Johnson as well, leaving huge space for Swansea on the counter.

Coutinho was largely invisible on the day, while Henderson got the first brace of his Liverpool career to go along with two from Daniel Sturridge. The forward line impressed at times and faltered at others, with Sturridge and Luis Suarez failing to combine, while Raheem Sterling had an in-and-out performance on the left. Suarez will get his goals soon enough, but it's clear that he's pressing at times, and while his impact is still felt (as we saw with the assist for Sturridge and shot that led to Henderson's winner), it'll be nice when he's back among the goals.

Substitute appearances for Kolo Toure and Victor Moses were largely unremarkable, but Rodgers' decision to add Joe Allen at the expense of Sterling proved critical. The Welshman was terrific with and without the ball, giving Liverpool the control they'd previously been lacking over the final half-hour of the match. His impact was felt throughout, and this was exactly the type of display his manager had been hoping for.

A nerve-wracking 90-odd minutes to be sure, but hopefully a day that sees Liverpool learn important lessons for the final two and a half months of the season. Eleven matches left to play, and everything left to play for.

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