Liverpool vs Swansea match report: Adam Lallana sweeps aside the anxiety as Liverpool cut loose at Anfield

Liverpool 4 Swansea 1

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The Independent Football

Before the light goes out on an extraordinary year for Liverpool – of which it would be an understatement to say there have been highs and lows – a reminder that all is not necessarily lost.

Before the light goes out on an extraordinary year for Liverpool – of which it would be an understatement to say there have been highs and lows – here was a reminder that all is not necessarily lost.

This is a club who scored 58 home goals last season, the second best in the Premier League, but who had managed only nine, the division’s third worst tally, before last night and went into the fixture with nine joint top scorers at home in the league – all on a tally of one. Brendan Rodgers promised it would take time for them to come good and this display and their first four-goal haul since the annihilation of Tottenham, last March, which suggested at the time that they might be champions, offers fragile hope.

Rodgers has searched for answers, chopped, changed and agonised, but in Liverpool’s third goal the colour, energy, intelligence and pace of 2014 was recast in his 3-4-3 system. A Philippe Coutinho backheel into the path of Adam Lallana, who burst past around the Swansea defence to score, was a fitting combination from the two players who had lit up the night. Lallana’s emergence as the prime beneficiary of the new system provides most promise.

Every Anfield fixture these days seems to remind Liverpool of the powers they once possessed, now have lost. Swansea at home last February was another of those fixtures they took by storm – 2-0 up inside 20 minutes, before that perennially shaky defence of theirs gave way and they needed to score four to win narrowly.

That was the Swansea manager Garry Monk’s first game at the helm and though he looks every inch the Rodgers protégé – he has even got the Northern Irishman’s hand signals off pat – Rodgers did not anticipate meeting him in a position where he was three points behind the Welsh club, 10 long months later.

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Alberto Moreno celebrates after opening the scoring

An anxiety brooded on the cold Merseyside night as Rodgers fielded a goalkeeper, Simon Mignolet, who had come up with that bizarre suggestion, pre-match, that he had nothing to prove, starting his first game since he was dropped for his side’s journey into Old Trafford. Jamie Carragher had it right on that point. “He’s got everything to prove,” he said. “Not just his Liverpool career but his whole future.”

But Liverpool did not find need of him and neither, for once, was their talisman a requirement. There has been a tendency when Rodgers has dropped Steven Gerrard to the bench – as he did last night – for the side to look uncertain, fragile and in need of him, though this time was different. It was Gerrard who looked to be in an alien place, heading off up the touchline for a run and forgetting his bib, which he went back to fetch, while Liverpool revealed that the fluidity of their display against Arsenal nine days ago was no fluke.

The passing and movement was crisp and quick from the beginning, with the front line of Raheem Sterling, Lallana and Coutinho working together impressively and ambitiously, but it was Liverpool’s willingness to play a different way that was also striking. Passing the ball through from end to end – the Rodgers’ mantra – has not been possible this season, with opponents willing to press Liverpool harder, and the long diagonal pass, bypassing the centre, was a device that Rodgers was willing to let his players try this time.

The game was nine minutes old when Emre Can, on the right-hand side of Liverpool’s three-man defence executed a 50-yard pass that Coutinho slipped off to Alberto Moreno, whose first touch took it over the dead ball line when the goal might have opened up.

The same diagonal line of attack, again converted into a threat by Coutinho’s imagination, almost took Sterling in to score. Can’s coolness in the back line will have encouraged Rodgers and though Martin Skrtel’s booking means he will miss Thursday’s match against Leicester City here, it was his beautiful jump from a Jordan Henderson corner that forced Lukasz Fabianski to save sharply at head height.

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Adam Lallana was excellent, scoring twice

The nervousness vanished and nothing could contain Liverpool as Moreno created and finished the opening goal – advancing on to short ball from Mamadou Sakho, delivering sharply to Lallana and advancing to send the low cross from Henderson into the net. The technique was impeccable. The cross was at pace and it would have been easy for Moreno to put the ball over.

Jonjo Shelvey was lucky to avoid dismissal for throwing a hand into Can’s face. It was 45 minutes before Mignolet was required to do so much and come to collect a high ball and the Anfield cheers came out of relief, not irony.

The irony was located in Monk, not Rodgers, being the manager with reasons to curse a goalkeeper. For all that he has had to thank Fabianski for in the past few days – key saves against Aston Villa and Hull City – the goalkeeper was culpable when Liverpool doubled their advantage six minutes into the second half, driving a dangerous back pass into the right shoulder of Lallana and watching as it sailed into the net.

A two-goal lead offers no more certainty for Liverpool now than it did last February and there were echoes of the sides’ last encounter when the obligatory central defensive mistake from the back line handed Swansea an equaliser. Sakho panicked under a Wayne Routledge cross, with Wilfried Bony threatening on his shoulder as Swansea displayed more intent, and sent the ball straight to  Gylfi Sigurdsson, who slammed it home.

An unconvincing Mignolet stop from Sigurdsson moments later created a momentary sense that catastrophe lurked but then came the virtuoso goal which sent Lallana’s name echoing around Anfield.

Fabianski allowed Liverpool to breathe completely. His faulty positioning from Henderson’s corner just beyond the hour allowed the ball to skid off Shelvey’s head and into the net.

Both sides would hit the woodwork, with substitute  Bafétimbi Gomis crashing against the stanchion between post and bar, but at last in this desperate season, Liverpool could justifiably say that they were imperious.

Liverpool (3-4-3): Mignolet, Can, Skrtel, Sakho, Manquillo, Moreno, Lucas, Henderson, Lallana (Markovic 77), Coutinho (Borini 90), Sterling (Balotelli 83).

Swansea (4-2-3-1): Fabianski, Richards (Rangel HT), Fernandez, Williams, Taylor, Britton (Ki 67), Shelvey, Dyer, Sigurdsson, Routledge, Bony (Gomis 62).

Booked: Liverpool Skrtel.

Man of the match Coutinho.

Match rating 7/10.

Referee A Marriner (West Midlands).

Attendance 44,714

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