Just after a week after a stunning 4-3 victory over Manchester City at Anfield to extend their unbeaten run to 18 matches in all competitions, Liverpool fell to their first defeat since October against bottom side Swansea City.
Swansea, despite being at home, sat back and looked to frustrate Jürgen Klopp’s rampant Reds. They aimed to hit Liverpool on the counter and caused them a few problems. Their goal arrived in the first half after a mix-up in the penalty area allowed West Ham transfer target Alfie Mawson to fire past Loris Karius.
Liverpool created a lot more in the second-half, and it really was like attack vs defence, but the home side held firm. The Reds couldn’t find a way past Lukasz Fabianski and when they did, with practically the last kick of the game, Roberto FIrmino‘s effort rattled the post.
It’s a huge three points for Swansea who are now just four points behind 14th-placed Huddersfield Town. It’s a blow for Liverpool who missed the chance to open up a five point gap over fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur.
Here are five things we learned from Swansea 1-0 Liverpool.
Virgil Van Dijk doesn’t fix everything
Liverpool parted with £75million, a club record, to sign van Dijk from Southampton. It was a coup considering Manchester City had wanted to bring the Dutchman to the Etihad. Many believed, wrongly, that’d be would be the man to solve all of the problems the Merseyside club had defensively.
The Reds look a lot more assured with him on the pitch, he genuinely does look like a classy defender, but there are problems that one man just can’t fix. It was the Liverpool No.4 whose header fell to Federico Fernández before Mawson fired home. The Dutch centre-back was challenging his own player for the ball in the air and couldn’t make a clean connection.
What followed was a bit of a mess. Does the system need tweaking? It’s a question that will no doubt be asked due to the fact Klopp’s men have conceded the same kind of goal a number of times since he replaced Brendan Rodgers at the helm.
Different players. Different seasons. Same result.
Liverpool lack creativity
Liverpool's four man defence completed 210 passes In the first half.
More than their midfield and attack combined.
Swansea will be happy with this, the game is being played in front of them.
— Football Whispers (@FB_WHISPERS) January 22, 2018
It’s not a shock really, is it? Philippe Coutinho was often the spark in these matches, the man to link midfield to the attack. He’d drop into a deeper area and dribble past one or two players before playing an incisive pass through. It stretched the opposition – even the most compact and organised teams.
That’s not to suggest he was perfect in these matches. Klopp’s men struggled to break down teams who sat deep even with the Brazilian maestro. But with him the Reds stood a better chance of finding the back of the net than without him.
He was sold to Barcelona with the club claiming he was determined to leave and wouldn’t take no for an answer. They pocketed a cool £140million for him but, according to most reports, the Reds will wait until the summer to bring in midfield reinforcements.
This after being priced out of a move to bring Naby Keita in six months early and deciding that Thomas Lemar wasn’t completely sold on the idea of moving to Merseyside this month. There’s a dearth of creativity in the middle third.
In the graphic above, courtesy of Whoscored.com, you see the pass map for the midfield three in the first half. It’s as though there’s a barrier stopping them from making passes within 25 yards of the Swansea goal.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain brings a lot to the team but he’s not the sort to unlock a compact defence. Gini Wijnaldum keeps things ticking over but, again, he’s not famed for his incisive, defence splitting passes. Juventus transfer target Emre Can created a chance for Sadio Mané in the first-half but he was playing as the deepest midfielder, it’s not his job to get into those areas of the pitch.
Swansea show defensive resilience
Bottom of the table Swansea went into this game having conceded 35 goals in 23 matches at a rate of 1.52 per 90 minutes. And they’d kept just six clean sheets all season. When the two sides met on Boxing Day Liverpool hit them for five and it could have been much more.
Yet Carlos Carvalhal has found a system that works. Against a Liverpool side averaging 2.3 goals per 90 minutes, who have scored three or more in 12 games this season, they dictated the space and weren’t really cut open.
Salah blazed over from ten yards out after a lofted ball over the top while Mané’s has two chances in the first-half after an Can pass from deep and a counter attack. They didn’t give Liverpool a sniff and frustrated Klopp’s men.
Salah isn’t clinical
The Egyptian is the club’s top scorer and behind only Harry Kane in the Premier League for goals scored. He has 18 and could’ve added to his tally in the first half after he got onto the end of a van Dijk pass and blazed the ball over from ten yards out.
Liverpool fans have come to expect this from their No.11. He doesn’t miss ‘sitters’ but he does squander chances you’d expect a player of his quality to bury. However, it’s swept under the rug because he finds the back of the net eventually.
He’s a player who relies on volume. Salah needs two or three chances to hit the back of the net. When Liverpool are at their best he gets enough opportunities to put at least one of them away and everybody goes away happy. But in these tight matches, when chances are scarce, the fact he’s not clinical is a problem.
The Reds will come up against teams who sit deep, especially after seeing what they did to champions elect Manchester City. And the calls for a proper striker, rightly or wrongly, will increase.
Klopp won’t tweak his forward line but he does need to tinker with the midfield three behind them in an attempt to find ways to create more chances.
Old habits die hard for Liverpool
Liverpool, until this season at least, didn’t have the patience to beat teams who went a goal up and then scarified possession to sit deep. It had looked like they’d learnt their lesson in many ways and it helped having Coutinho in their team with his ability to fire the ball home from 30+ yards. However, against Swansea it was clear that old habits really do die hard.
It was a game that needed patience. The Reds needed to stretch the Swans. They needed to work the ball, quickly, from side to side. They needed to resist the urge to shoot from distance and instead work the ball into dangerous areas in and around the penalty box.
But they didn’t. Instead they opted to shoot from ridiculous angles and give Swansea a breather. Klopp’s tactics put pressure on the opposition. They’re supposed to turn the screw and force them into making mistakes. It’s safe to say that the message didn’t reach his players tonight in Wales. Joe Gomez was shooting from wide areas and van Dijk tried to fire home a spectacular effort from 35 yards late on.