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Swansea 3, Liverpool 1: Ðiffiðent Ðefeat at Swansea

A young Liverpool side, with limited assistance from the grownups, is unable to hold the line against a Swansea side looking for added security, and succumbs to a dispiriting defeat ahead of a huge rematch with Villarreal.

Stu Forster/Getty Images

Swansea 3 Ayew 21', Cork 33', Ayew 67'
Liverpool 1 Benteke 65'

In late season matches such as these, where the combatants are not challenging for major honors, and where incentives are not easily apparent, there can sometimes nonetheless appear moments of magic where a young star announces his arrival, or where a fringe player mounts a career-redefining comeback.

This was not one of those matches.

Instead, this was the footballing equivalent of giving the keys to a teenager who had just earned his driver's license and watching him scrape the door frame while backing the car out of the garage.

There was a lot of noise accompanying the announcement of the lineups, mostly around the youth - unprecedented in the Premier League era - of the Liverpool side. While this was a very young side indeed, there was still a handful of more familiar and experienced faces sprinkled throughout.

The question on this day would always be whether youthful exuberance would be married with the positional awareness to make it count.  Swansea accepted the challenge of testing this notion early, starting brightly and moving the ball around at pace, with Gylfi Sigurðsson as the focal point and André Ayew as the very sharp and pointy tip of the spear.

Philippe Coutinho drew a similar assignment in a central position, but was mostly unable to exert a corresponding influence, having been deprived of several of his usual partners in crime. Behind him, Kevin Stewart and Pedro Chirivella were tasked with disrupting Swansea's efforts and establishing a foundation for Liverpool's runners.

Stewart has had a bit more seasoning with the senior team than Chirivella, and it was evident early, with the former Spurs academy player showing a bit more composure and looking for the more aggressive option. Chirivella seemed somewhat overwhelmed by the occasion, which is unfortunate given the relatively low stakes in this contest, and had his pocket picked by Swansea time and time again.

Swansea were invited to capitalize on Liverpool's hesitancy in working the ball out of their own backyard, and the hosts duly obliged.  So frequently and easily was possession surrendered that both Sturridge and Coutinho started to show intermittent indifference towards tracking back. Inevitably, a Swansea break led to a Swansea corner, which led to a Swansea opening goal, courtesy of a close range header from Ayew.

Danny Ward, standing in for Simon Mignolet in goal, had done good work to minimize the damage up until that point, but even his confidence was starting to look just a bit frayed.  Worryingly, some of the defensive fortitude that Liverpool seemed to have rediscovered in the second half of the season appeared all but evaporated here, the culmination of a trend that had been looming since the loss of Jordan Henderson, then Emre Can, then most recently Mamadou Sakho, and not helped by the reticence of Stewart and Chirivella.

The next beneficiary of Liverpool's shakiness was Jack Cork.  The Swansea midfielder was first to a loose ball in the Liverpool half, and glided forward virtually unchallenged before unleashing a beautiful curling effort past a helpless Ward. The visitors were two goals down at the half and not looking likely to erase that difference.

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Realizing that something clearly needed to be done, Klopp summoned Christian Benteke and Lucas Leiva for the restart, in place of Coutinho and Chirivella respectively.  Formation-wise, Liverpool switched to something resembling a 4-4-2. Almost immediately, there was a shade more stability in midfield, but the combination of Benteke and Sturridge was neither a comfortable nor a fluid one. To their credit, Sheyi Ojo and Jordon Ibe were less tentative in the second half, but still displayed a tendency to carry the ball into traffic where possession was promptly lost.

A corner taken by Ojo found Benteke, who was able to briefly offer a glimpse of hope for Liverpool after he headed home from close range.  But Swansea were having none of it.  Mere minutes later, an attack initiated by the effervescent Montero led to a comical defensive sequence for Liverpool, who failed to clear and allowed Ayew to slot home his second of the day.  The comeback was over before it began, and there was room for more disappointment before the final whistle when Brad Smith received his marching orders for his second yellow card.

It doesn't take a genius to realize that this was a match that Liverpool started and played with one eye on their match with Villarreal on Thursday.  It also wasn't the first time that several younger players were called upon to prove the depth in this Liverpool squad.  It was, however, the first time this season that their inexperience was so brutally exposed, with the older hands unable to staunch the bleeding.

All the eggs are now in the Europa League basket, and Klopp will have to be at his creative best to extract anything positive from this performance, while also hoping that any erosion of confidence suffered here will be quickly forgotten.

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