Liverpool 1 Milner (PK) 62'
Swansea City 0
Given Liverpool's Europa League involvement on Thursday and the absence of Philippe Coutinho and Lucas Leiva, there was a sense that the Reds might stumble against a Swansea team mired in a poor run of form. That feeling intensified when a dominant opening stretch from Liverpool failed to net a goal. But a second half penalty from James Milner proved enough to overcome the work of the visitors, giving Liverpool a hard fought 1-0 victory.
Lucas' suspension forced Jürgen Klopp to start James Milner and Emre Can at the base of Liverpool's midfield. Throughout the match, Milner ventured forward to press in the final third, leaving Can to tend to the defensive midfield on his own. At first, the strategy worked brilliantly as Swansea struggled to break free from its own half. Without many counter attacks for Can to deal with, he was able to focus on his long passing, and in the 13th minute his beautiful over-the-top ball to Benteke would have likely led to a goal if not for the striker's poor first touch.
Liverpool's immense attacking pressure protected Can in the opening minutes by pinning Swansea back, but that energy was unsustainable. Once the team's energy dropped, Swansea found life on the counter attack, as the visitors took advantage of Milner's aggression by attacking an isolated Can through the middle. Can may someday become the type of defensive midfielder who shuts down counter attacks on his own, but he's not there yet and he struggled to fill the defensive space against Swansea.
However, Garry Monk's side lacked attacking quality once it reached the final third, and that paired with a solid defensive display from Liverpool's back line kept Simon Mignolet unoccupied for most of the match. While Swansea's counter attacks didn't threaten to score, they took valuable time away from Liverpool's attack, which for all of its possession failed to create many chances.
Liverpool was fortunate to take the lead after Nathaniel Clyne whipped in a cross from the right wing that Neil Taylor blocked with his arm. There didn't seem to be much intent from Taylor, but it was deemed a penalty by the assistant referee. Milner calmly converted from the spot to put the Reds on top.
Jordan Henderson made his return from injury in the second half, replacing Roberto Firmino as a second half sub. Firmino wasn't at his best today, but it's hard to fault him for a down afternoon after his great run of form over the last month. Meanwhile, Adam Lallana put in another quality performance, although he faded a bit toward the end of the game.
Daniel Sturridge also returned from a lengthy injury absence. Klopp's decision to put him on in place of Benteke rather than Ibe or Lallana was a bit puzzling -- while Benteke didn't play well, his hold up play would have been useful over the final 20 minutes. Perhaps there was some concern about Benteke going the full 90 given his own injury problems this season.
Nonetheless, Liverpool won during a weekend in which top teams across the Premier League dropped points. The Reds move up to sixth place with the top four in sight, and their upcoming schedule gives them a real chance to make a push up the table. Their next three league matches are against Newcastle, West Brom and Watford, which are all winnable games.