And rightly so, given that he scored one and assisted one for the hosts—giving away two costly errors for the visitors to capitalize and score from.
If the Man of the Match awards were really given based on impact on the overall game, there wouldn’t be a better candidate than the Swans No. 8.
But besides Shelvey opening the scoring after a fine run and shot, there was Daniel Sturridge being opportunistic and seizing on an errant back pass. And Victor Moses making an impression and scoring a goal on his debut. And Michu finishing expertly from Shelvey’s exquisite lay-off header.
All in all, it made for a fine end-to-end game of football for two sides who like to play quickly and expansively—as the commentators will no doubt say, “a great advert for the English Premier League.”
Here are eight positives and negatives for Liverpool from the 2-2 draw, which ends the Reds’ winning start to the season but extends their unbeaten run. Let us know your take in the comments below.
This Is What an Unfit Daniel Sturridge Can Do…
Small wonder, then, that he had to fight to make the trip to south Wales after having to miss out on England’s World Cup qualifiers last week, and exhibited a general lack of movement and mobility towards the end of the 90 minutes at the Liberty Stadium.
Lacking match fitness, Sturridge scored all the same, to continue his four-game scoring run in the Premier League, with a 12th goal in his last 10 games.
His piece of opportunism to score Liverpool’s opening goal—and to peg the Swans back almost immediately—will be understated given Jonjo Shelvey’s part in it and the latter’s history as a Liverpool player.
Sturridge had the presence of mind to anticipate Shelvey’s back-pass, and the timing of his run—including a slight adjustment of the run-up to meet the errant pass—was as impressive as his confident finish past the stranded Michel Vorm.
The Reds No. 15 hasn’t been 100 percent match-fit for most of the season yet, but he’s already scored in all five of Liverpool’s games this season. Imagine him firing on all cylinders.
…But Glen Johnson’s Absence Will Be Huge for the Reds
When Glen Johnson was forced off with an ankle injury against Manchester United, he was first mooted for a 10-week absence from the team, and was rightly considered a major blow for Brendan Rodgers.
The good news is that, according to Goal.com, Rodgers has said that Johnson may end up missing only four Premier League games, which will be a significant boost to the defence.
In Johnson’s absence, young Andre Wisdom, who first came into the team at the beginning of last season, has deputized at right-back, but unfortunately the No. 47 hasn’t been able to replicate his composed, confident form as yet.
His unsteady showing on Monday against Wayne Routledge and Ben Davies meant that the majority of the Swansea attacks came from the hosts’ left-hand side, where Wisdom was obviously uncomfortable dealing with the pace and acceleration on his flank.
It seemed inevitable that he would be replaced in the second half, and sure enough, Kolo Toure was sent on to offer his experience in a bid to shore up the defence, who by then was on the back foot against an increasingly confident home side.
But in the continued absence of Martin Kelly, while Liverpool have a host of options available to play in the right-back slot, none of them will offer the assurance and the complete package that Glen Johnson offers.
The sooner the Liverpool and England No. 2 returns, the better.
Victor Moses Will Be a Key Addition to the Attack…
Moses was the former Crystal Palace prodigy who joined Wigan Athletic in 2010, and when he was up for grabs last summer from the Latics, Liverpool were linked with him, as reported by the Daily Mail.
After a season at Chelsea where he gained prominence and a regular first-team place under former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez, Moses endured a difficult start to the season with Jose Mourinho at the helm, and was snapped up by Mourinho protégé Brendan Rodgers on loan for the season.
Initially, it was a signing met with mixed reactions from Liverpool supporters. They ranged from laments about Liverpool’s status compared to Chelsea’s (having to resort to loaning a player from their rivals) to the quality of Moses himself and whether he would bring anything to Anfield.
And the new No. 12 quickly allayed any fears and doubts of the Reds faithful with an exciting debut on Monday, where he troubled defenders with his pace and dribbling, and knocked in a nonchalant goal from outside the box following a fine run.
He departed on 80 minutes with Raheem Sterling coming on as his replacement, having shown on his first appearance exactly why Rodgers chose to give him this opportunity.
…But Iago Aspas Continues to Underwhelm
While Andre Wisdom came into the team due to Glen Johnson’s injury, and Mamadou Sakho due to Daniel Agger’s, there was one other change to the Liverpool starting lineup that spoke volumes about two summer arrivals at Anfield.
Iago Aspas had put in tidy shifts on his first three league appearances for Liverpool—and indeed was Liverpool’s top scorer over preseason—but straight into the starting lineup came new signing Victor Moses and his power, pace, physicality and goal threat.
When Aspas did come on in the second half for the injured Philippe Coutinho, he showed exactly why Moses was favored for the occasion over the new No. 9.
Simply put, Aspas didn’t show enough of the “terrier-like” mentality and aggressive technical forward play he was known for at previous club Celta Vigo.
So what now for the £7.7 million summer signing?
It’s way too early to write off the Spanish forward, especially taking into account the varying time spans in which foreign players settle into the Premier League. But with Moses making an eye-catching debut, Jordan Henderson continuing to impress and Luis Suarez waiting to return to the fold, it looks a tall order for Aspas to reclaim his position in the starting XI.
Time to get his head down and work on his physique to impose himself in the league.
For a player mooted as this season’s version of Swansea bargain find Michu, Aspas has too much talent not to come back with a vengeance.
First-Half Dominance Is Now Customary for Liverpool…
And there are positives and negatives to this.
Looking positively, there was the much-derided lack of composure and mental strength that saw the team particularly vulnerable after scoring a goal themselves. In itself, this was a curious phenomenon last season.
Failing to start a game well and get a firm hold on the tie cost Liverpool many a point and many a result especially in the first half of last season, and it meant that the Reds often had to step up their game in the second 45 minutes.
Incredibly, they’ve now turned it around.
The impressive starts to their first few games deserve to be lauded, during which the exquisite short passing and exciting movement all over the pitch have caused untold problems for opposing midfields and defences.
It is especially telling that, barring the extra-time goals in the Capital One Cup tie against Notts County, all seven goals Liverpool have scored this season have come in the first half.
So, Rodgers has thus far successfully gotten his team to step up their performances and maintain a stranglehold on possession and the game as a whole in the first 45 minutes.
And, in truth, the results are encouraging.
…Now It’s a Matter of Finishing the Game Strongly
But there are always areas for improvement, and in Liverpool’s case, it’s now about finishing the game just as strongly as they start it.
Or, in other words, it’s about maintaining that consistency in performance levels, stamina and composure over the course of the 90 minutes.
What they’ve proved in their opening fixtures is that the mental resilience and collective mindset now exist in abundance across the team; you don’t hold onto one-goal leads and turn them into three points having to defend in the second half unless you have this kind of toughness.
As is always mentioned, real top teams have it in them to churn out results and points even when they’re not playing particularly well, and this has certainly been the case for Liverpool’s second-half performances thus far this 2013/14 campaign.
It is unrealistic and probably even unfair to expect the players to dominate an entire game.
The likes of Barcelona and FC Bayern Munich are regarded as special clubs precisely because it is that difficult to do so. The drop in performance levels after the break have been a common feature in all four league games this season and will surely be a point to note for Rodgers and his backroom team.
They have rightly commended their on-field charges for their ability to hold it together and preserve a lead—something that they might not have been able to do just 12 months ago—but now it is time to up their game to a whole different level.
Another Week at the Top of the Premier League at Anfield…
Three games in, a game in hand due to their late kickoff in this fourth round of Premier League fixtures, and they have the same number of points as table-topping Arsenal?
Drawing the game would send them top again, and losing it would still place them on level footing with the league leaders?
Sure enough, while all hopes were on Liverpool continuing their winning start to the season and going three points clear at the top of the table, this was a new feeling at Anfield, a first in many seasons: They were actually worried about dropping points because they didn’t want to lose their top spot in the league.
A point was duly secured, in the process extending their unbeaten run and continuing their fine form since the turn of the year.
And Liverpool host the visit of Southampton this Saturday as league leaders.
Match Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur’s results this weekend, and Liverpool will go into another round of fixtures in first place.
Not bad at all.
…And Liverpool Fans Should Enjoy This While It Lasts
The beauty of the current league table right now is that this was not even supposed to be part of Liverpool’s season.
Yes, last season was a disappointing one, which ultimately ended without having secured European football for the season and culminated in the Reds finishing below their Merseyside rivals, Everton, in seventh place.
But even with their encouraging transfer business this summer, considering the strengthening done at rival clubs, it was always going to be a long shot even just to make the Champions League places, especially given the prevailing new expectations of steady progress at Anfield.
If, prior to the start of the season, Liverpool fans would be offered a point away to Swansea and 10 after their first four fixtures, the majority of them would have gladly taken it—as would, surely, the players and the manager.
In the context of the game itself, Liverpool should be disappointed that they didn’t make their first-half dominance count more by finishing with the win and extending their lead at the top of the table, but the bigger picture shows that they find themselves where they were never expected or supposed to be in the first place.
It is all well and good to expect, and even demand, a consistent run of good results to keep this league position as long and lofty as possible, but when the dropping of points inevitably come, Liverpool fans would do well to remember their underlying context, that a Champions League finish would already be a huge achievement for the season.
Holding that perspective would help them make all the right noises while supporting their team in their quest of glory.
This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and other Premier League-related matters.