If Liverpool are not careful, they could be out of the Premier League title race, the League Cup and the FA Cup by a week on Tuesday. Somehow, they were defeated here having clawed the game back from two goals down and losing at home – especially in this fashion – to a team fighting relegation as Swansea City are, is not the type of thing Premier League champions tend to do.
This was a disastrous result for Jürgen Klopp and brilliant one for Paul Clement, one that lifts Swansea off the bottom of the table and out of the relegation zone, even if it is temporarily depending on results elsewhere later in the afternoon.
In another world, Clement, indeed, might have been sitting here in Anfield’s new dugouts as Liverpool’s assistant manager. When Fenway Sports Group recruited Klopp, it was between the German and Carlo Ancelotti for the job, the final decision swinging Klopp’s way because he blew John W Henry, Tom Werner and Michael Gordon away with his appetite for the role during interview in Manhattan.
Clement has followed Ancelotti around Europe, employed by clubs where the challenge has been different to the one he now faces. The day began with John Toshack, the legendary Swansea manager, questioning Clement’s suitability. “The new manager, they talk a lot about him being at Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Chelsea or whatever, but the managerial experience is nine months at Derby so we are still a little bit uncertain,” Toshack said.
Clement’s immediate task is to find a way for Swansea to stop conceding goals. Four flew past them against Arsenal last Saturday and their defensive record before this weekend was the worst in the league. To park a bus, as many managers have tried at Anfield this season, it is more complicated than suggesting that way forward and cracking on. It takes weeks of preparation to set a team up that way, for an understanding to develop between players and their responsibilities. Clement, then – quite simply – decided not to commit players in attack very often. Llorente – the 6ft 5inch focal point – was not really a centre forward at all in the first half because he was so deep, allowing Liverpool’s defenders and midfielders to fiddle about with the ball all they wanted.
Emre Can has many qualities and would be effective for some managers and some teams. He is fortunate, though, there is no Opta stat for dwelling in possession and slowing the game down when it needs to be much faster. Liverpool’s cause was not helped either in the early stages by the quality of Jordan Henderson’s passing, which enabled Swansea’s midfielders to make frequent interceptions and stopped Liverpool gaining any momentum.
Can and Henderson were not alone in their wastefulness. A sequence for you to think about: Dejan Lovren passed to Ragnar Klavan. Klavan passed to Lovren. Lovren to Henderson. Henderson to Emre Can. Can back to Klavan. And Klavan into Georginio Wijnaldum. Liverpool, under no pressure whatsoever, had reached the half way line. It had taken 90 seconds.
Swansea could have been ahead before they were. Lax marking allowed Llorente to feed Tom Carroll on his second debut for Swansea having signed from Tottenham in a permanent deal after a loan spell last season. In front of the Kop, Carroll’s deflected shot had beaten Simon Mignolet only to hit the outside of his near post.
Lukasz Fabianski had not been forced into a save by the time Swansea’s lead had opened up to two. From Liverpool’s point of view, Llorente’s first goal was avoidable because they failed to react in the two phases following Wayne Routledge’s corner. For Llorente’s second, though, there is only so much you can do when a giant has a run on you. From Carroll’s superb cross, Llorente - the subject of interest from Chelsea - powered in a header.
Firmino had been Liverpool’s best player, largely because of his ceaseless running and clever movement despite the limited service coming his way. If anyone had the confidence to get them back in it, it was him. By the 70th minute, Liverpool were level. Firmino’s first was a header, his second a consequence of tight footwork and a brilliant half-volley.
From there, it felt like Liverpool would win. In defence, though, they panicked, with Klavan messing up his clearance. One player you don’t want the ball to fall to in such situations is Gylfi Sigurdsson. The Icelander needed one touch. Somehow Liverpool had lost. Somehow, Swansea had won.
Liverpool (4-3-2-1): Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Milner; Wijnaldum (Matip 90), Henderson, Can (Origi 70); Lallana, Coutinho (Sturridge 56); Firmino. Subs not used: Karius, Moreno, Lucas, Woodburn
Swansea City (4-5-1): Fabianski; Naughton, Fernández, Mawson, Olsson (Rangel 79); Routledge, Fer (Fulton 90), Cork, Carroll, Sigurdsson, Llorente (Baston 85). Subs not used: Nordfelt, Dyer, McBurnie, Amat.
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