There are no gimmies in the Premier League, although this year’s Swansea City comes close. Just 4 wins, 5 draws, and 14 losses puts the Swans, rightfully, dead last in England’s top flight, four points adrift from Southampton (and safety) in 17th. No side has netted fewer times. In fact, the Swans have yet to score more than 2 goals in a single match.
Last time Liverpool faced off against the Welsh side at Anfield, the result was an emphatic 5-0 win, and—excuse the pun—a bit of an unannounced Swan song for Philippe Coutinho, who scored the opener and assisted on the second. It’s easy to look back at that match with fondness, but the two sides went into the interval separated by Coutinho’s lone strike. A flurry of early second half goals, bookended by Roberto Firmino goals in the 52nd and 66th minute, with Trent Alexander-Arnold in between, saw the Reds pull out ahead in decisive fashion.
Interestingly, it is a similarly 3-goal second half blitz, once again led by Firmino, saw Liverpool pull ahead for good in last weekend’s glory match against League Champions Elect Manchester City.
However, this is where the comparisons end. Liverpool were essentially able to go into the last match with little or no pressure. Win, draw, or loss, most observers would not be too critical, so long as the Reds performed to their best. It was a free run at the future champs. A chance to see if Superman, in fact, bleeds. Taking all three points was a bonus, and a big one, according to Five Thirty Eight; enough to make Liverpool favorites not just to qualify for Champions League (from 79% to 89% in one match), but to finish second in the league.
The Swans represent the opposite problem. Swansea will not be expected to get anything out of this match. A draw would be counted as a win on their ledger. And for Liverpool, anything less than three points would be a loss.
Whereas Liverpool could face off against Manchester City with the advantage of being both amped up for a big match, and pressure-free, Liverpool must now fight against themselves. They must combat natural human tendency to relax after such a big, emotional win, and overcome the pressure if and when the minutes drag on without finding that opening goal.
There is also, of course, the matter of a Coutinho-free Liverpool. It now seems more and more likely that Jurgen Klopp will make due with what he has, and see out the rest of the campaign without bringing in a replacement.
The argument, from the cynics amount us is that Coutinho was instrumental in helping break down these lesser sides earlier in the season. It is one thing to win a huge game as a team, it’s another to win a game that might rely on a moment of magic to pick the lock. This is reasonable, but a Coutinho-free Reds were able to beat Crystal Palace, Huddersfield Town, West Ham, and Stoke City (the last three all by 3-goal margins).
But it is one thing to win when Coutinho has been rested, or “injured,” it is another when he will not be coming back into the side. Instead of stepping up to fill his absence for a game or two, the remaining players must step up for the rest of the season. A big test in accomplishing that feat begins on Monday night.
On paper, Liverpool should have no fears. But an away match in the league, particularly under the floodlights, is never as easy as it seems. And I’m sure the players and Klopp alike will remember when Swansea rolled into town, new manager in tow, and pulled off a 3-2 upset around this time last year.
Hopefully the manager and players use that memory as motivation to step up to the occasion, and not, as so many Liverpool sides have done in the past, play down to their lowly opponents.