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Swansea 1, Liverpool 0: Back to Earth

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The Reds lurch to their first defeat in three months with a limp display in Wales.

Swansea City v Liverpool - Premier League
Illustrated: Liverpool trying to hang on to 4th place.
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Swansea 1 Mawson 40’
Liverpool 0

Coming off their best win of the season and a week’s rest, Liverpool produced one of their very worst performances in recent memory, losing to last-placed Swansea and creating new tension in the top four race.

With Jordan Henderson, Alberto Moreno and Nathaniel Clyne still not ready for action, Jürgen Klopp nonetheless produced a strong XI, becoming the first manager to start a side consisting entirely of players born in the 90s. Emre Can became the club’s sixth captain in six matches, and the haphazard captaincy model was reflected in the team’s general play.

Carlos Carvalhal had a plan to snatch a point, and it was as uncomplicated as it was frustratingly effective. A 5-4-1 that sat entirely in the home team’s final third, refusing to be drawn out of position and with every player staying tight to the closest attacker, combined with the Reds’ inability to complete a pass anywhere near the box, conspired to make the first half utterly unwatchable. Virgil van Dijk headed an Oxlade-Chamberlain corner wide after 23 minutes, before Mohamed Salah hammered a volley over the bar after a delightful van Dijk chip over the top, and that was that.

Otherwise, the first half was a footballing wasteland, compounded by the hosts scoring the go-ahead goal. £75 million man and set piece saviour van Dijk needlessly cleared two crosses for consecutive corners, and on the third go headed the ball softly down on the 12-yard spot for Alfie Mawson to mishit into the bottom corner after Federico Fernandez miscontrolled it. It was predictably Swansea’s first shot on target.

The Reds nearly got one back in injury time, as Roberto Firmino snatched the ball in midfield and played in Salah, but the Egyptian’s chipped cross was sliced wide by a leaping Sadio Mané.

If the first half was a barren wasteland, the second was a radioactive one. Despite a fifteen minute period in which the visitors appeared to be doing something — the pace was higher and the ball found its way into and across the Swans box a number of time — no clear chances were created and no real momentum was gathered. Salah saw a free kick fisted over the bar on the hour mark, but the Reds were otherwise relegated to speculative shots from outside the box.

Fifteen minutes from time, a neat bit of play saw Danny Ings(!) in space, but the Englishman’s shot was comfortably saved by Lukasz Fabianski, before a series of increasingly desperate attempts were put increasingly higher over the bar.

In injury time, at least one point should have been saved, however. First, Salah blasted a right-footed effort over the bar from discouragingly narrow angle instead of crossing to a unmarked Mané at the far post, and two minutes later, as injury time went into extra special injury time, Firmino popped up to head a van Dijk cross off the post from six yards out.

After a finishing performance off the absolute top shelf a week ago, Liverpool fail to convert easier chances this time round, topping it off with the customary set piece disaster. Swansea did well to frustrate their opponents and largely limited the Reds to pressured strikes from range, reflected in the fact that the 54-goal Anfield outfit were only able to put 4 of their 22 shots on target.

Beyond the importance of taking their chances against stingy opposition and not giving away charity goals from self-inflicted set pieces, though, there’s not much the players on the pitch could have been expected to do differently. When the subs bench looks like it did tonight, however — featuring Adam Lallana and James Milner as the star men — fans will rightly be looking for the club’s money men to act in the transfer market before the window closes in a week’s time.

West Bromwich — the only other side to have kept the Reds goalless in the past 21 matches — are up next in the FA Cup 4th round, and Klopp’s men will be looking to bounce back immediately.