A seven-goal thriller at Anfield on Sunday saw Liverpool race into a 2-0 lead with goals from Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson, only for Swansea City to peg them back. A second from Sturridge took the Reds up at half-time, only for a Wilfried Bony penalty to level things up after the break, before Henderson scored the winner.
This was both an exhibition of a swashbuckling attack and a display of dreadful defending from the home side, while Swansea’s enterprising efforts and relentless energy troubled Brendan Rodgers’ side throughout the 90 minutes.
But a brace each from Sturridge and Henderson were just enough to see the visitors off as the Reds secured an important three points after results elsewhere this weekend had gone the way of the Premier League top three.
Here are six things we learned about Liverpool’s thrilling win over Swansea. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
A Defensive Shambles
For the first time this season, Liverpool conceded three goals at home: Once again, it was their potent attack that bailed them out from an abysmal defensive performance.
It seems that the Reds defence struggle badly against big centre-forwards: They’ve been troubled by the likes of Christian Benteke in the past couple of seasons, and on Sunday it was Swansea’s Wilfried Bony who asked plenty of questions of Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger.
From Brendan Rodgers’ 63rd-minute substitution of Agger for the recently hapless Kolo Toure, it was fair to say that the vice-captain had failed to impress and that Bony had won the battle.
Not that Skrtel fared much better though. After a few months’ worth of shirt-pulling and tugging inside the penalty box had gone unnoticed, referee Mike Jones gave a decision that had been coming for a long time: a penalty on Skrtel.
In front of the defence, Steven Gerrard had one of his off days in the holding midfield role, as his tendency to roam forward to push the team on left gaping holes in the Reds’ final third. Jonjo Shelvey’s goal came as a result of the space afforded to him.
While Glen Johnson had a decent game upon his return from injury, only Jon Flanagan should emerge from the game with any credit. He grew in stature as the game wore on, and his work rate and commitment to the cause were crucial as Liverpool held on for the victory.
Contrasting Fortunes for Liverpool’s Strikers
Two goals and an assist for Daniel Sturridge made it 10 goals in his last eight league games, setting a record for Liverpool and opening a gap over Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero in the Premier League scoring charts.
Sturridge played the majority of the match on the right-hand side of the Liverpool front three, but his awareness and positioning to race clear in the 2nd minute and to head the home side back into the lead in the 36th minute had all the markings of a top Premier League striker.
Contrast that with Luis Suarez, who, despite putting in an exquisite cross for Sturridge’s second goal, failed to score once again. He’s only scored one goal in his last six league games, a far cry from his sizzling form in December.
As long as the SAS partnership remains productive and Liverpool continue to rack up the goals—and more importantly, the points—Suarez’s barren run will go relatively unnoticed, but this is not an ideal time for the No. 7’s shooting boots to go missing.
Liverpool fans and Suarez himself will look to Manchester United’s Robin van Persie as a study in “bouncebackability”: The United striker went through a mini-drought in the middle of last season as well, before storming back to take them to the league title.
Jordan Henderson Steps Up
Almost three years since he signed for Liverpool, Jordan Henderson finally looked like he was worth the £16 million Kenny Dalglish had splashed out to sign him from Sunderland.
Having stepped up to the fore over the Christmas period when Steven Gerrard was injured, Henderson had quietened down just a bit and retreated into more of a comfort zone when his captain returned.
But when the situation at Anfield on Sunday called for a leader to rise to the cause, it was Henderson who responded with a stirring performance.
Two goals, a constant box-to-box presence, frequent marauding runs into Swansea’s penalty area and a match-winning goal: This was a performance fitting of Steven Gerrard at his finest.
It is just as well that Henderson has rediscovered his form, confidence and assertiveness on the pitch as Liverpool look to finish their Premier League season strongly.
With Gerrard taking more of a backseat role these days, it is up to Henderson to carry on his good work and affect his inspirational leadership on this Liverpool side.
Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool fans will be looking for more of the same in the weeks to come.
An Impressive Cameo from Joe Allen
In hindsight, Rodgers made an inspired change just before the hour mark when he sent Joe Allen on for Raheem Sterling.
Swansea had equalized through a Wilfried Bony penalty, and Liverpool were looking just a bit jaded and nervous in the midfield, where Raheem Sterling’s influence had waned with the visitors’ rise in confidence.
Allen brought both composure and energetic pressing to the Reds midfield, both of which were integral to the home side keeping and recycling the ball, as well as giving Swansea a tougher time with their own possession play.
Allen took turns with Henderson going forward to the support the attack with his touches of the ball in advanced areas crucial to Liverpool’s attacking build-up.
As Liverpool enter the final 11 games of the season with less-than-desirable strength in depth, Allen provided a timely reminder of his qualities and potential worth to the side as a different option in the midfield.
However, his fellow substitute, Victor Moses, made the opposite impression with a lethargic display of poor invention and even poorer work rate.
If Allen made himself a real contender for the first team in the months to come, Moses surely moved himself further away from it with a disappointing 15 minutes off the bench.
An Encouraging Display from Swansea City
Garry Monk will have left Anfield ruing his side’s own defensive mistakes, as Swansea City had the chance to take a point or even all three home to south Wales.
But as the first side to score three goals at Anfield this season, Swansea will have been encouraged by their display: A show of energetic pressing and tidy passing put plenty of pressure on Brendan Rodgers’ side.
Michu’s loss for the majority of the season has been a huge setback for the Swans, but in his stead Wilfried Bony has started to look like the Premier League force he threatened to be in his first couple of months at the Liberty Stadium.
Strong, quick and clinical, Bony’s hold-up play caused plenty of problems for the Reds defence and opened up space for his midfield colleagues to roam forward and shoot on goal.
As Swansea find themselves much closer to bottom-placed Fulham than to ninth-placed Southampton, their first priority is to remain in the Premier League for the foreseeable future.
But as long as Monk continues in this mould, they should be looking at far more than staying in the league; they should be aiming at least to finish 10th.
Liverpool March on in Not-So-Impressive Fashion
When a Premier League side ships three goals to an opponent, “marching on” isn’t exactly the right term to use in the post-match reports, even if they’ve scored four themselves.
Yet “march on” is what Liverpool continue to do, and their nervy win highlighted attributes that they perhaps didn’t have previously: mental strength and a collective desire to finish in the top four.
Sunday was their ninth time scoring four or more goals in a Premier League game this season, and all three points in the bag, they have already equaled the number of wins they achieved last season—with 11 games to go.
Liverpool’s four-goal haul also makes them the highest-scoring side in the Premier League this season, overtaking Manchester City. No mean feat for a team that is still supposedly in a transitional season.
Their unconvincing defence will continue to leak goals, but as long as their attack continues to fire and they have big-game players coming up trumps, Liverpool may yet have further statements to make.
This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.