Jonjo Shelvey stole the headlines in an anticipated matchup against his former team, as the sides battled to an entertaining draw at the Liberty Stadium.
Brendan Rodgers made three changes to the Liverpool side that defeated Manchester United at Old Trafford. Victor Moses and Mamadou Sakho made their Liverpool debuts, while Andre Wisdom started at right back.
Michael Laudrup made two changes to the side that picked up three points against West Brom, two weeks ago. Nathan Dyer joined Michu and Wayne Routledge in an attacking three behind Wilfried Bony, while Leon Britton sat in the double pivot with Shelvey.
This was an exciting Premier League match that provided entertainment, tactical alterations and goals – a feat that has been rare this weekend.
Shelvey was one of the main storylines prior to kickoff, seeing as he’s a former Liverpool player, and the Englishman provided Swansea with a dream start. In the 2nd minute, Shelvey’s perseverance allowed him to skip past Steven Gerrard and pounce on his initial shot – blocked by Martin Skrtel – sneaking the ball past Simon Mignolet.
Shelvey’s role in the double pivot is odd based not only on his style of play, but also because he’s not a reliable passer. And the Swansea midfielder’s night took a massive dip minutes later, when Shelvey’s gift-wrapped a back pass to Daniel Sturridge, and the English striker scored his fourth goal of the season. Later on in the half, Moses – intercepted Shelvey’s pass despite being open – and the Nigerian winger ran at the Swansea back line and slotted the ball into the net.
The Swansea midfielder had an unforgettable first half outing, yet his impact in general, provided the match with flair, a storyline and thrill.
Liverpool dominate midfield
Rodgers’ men were the superior side in the opening 45 minutes and Coutinho’s movement played a significant factor in their dominance. Both sides benefitted from the amount of space available to push forward, as they preferred to sit in a compact shape in their own half. Gerrard and Lucas encountered a few difficulties going forward, thus leading to Coutinho drifting into deeper positions in midfield to link play and push Rodgers’ men forward.
With Henderson occasionally tucking in, this meant Liverpool outnumbered Swansea in midfield often leading to 3v2 and 4v2 situations. This raised the tempo of their passing, and with Sturridge floating along the final third, Swansea were being pulled out of position, allowing the Reds to get into dangerous positions. Coutinho was the main man in midfield – he linked play from deep positions, provided an extra passing option in midfield, and his departure due to injury saw Liverpool’s attack dip severely.
While the midfield is predominantly a key area on the pitch, wide areas have also become a decisive factor in whether a team is victorious. More specifically, it was interesting to see how both sides used their wingers. While Henderson provides powerful running from a narrow position, he was focused on making up the numbers in midfield, assuring that Liverpool dominated that area.
However, Moses provided a direct threat on the left flank, often attacking Angel Rangel – who was left to defend the Nigerian winger, seeing as Dyer ignored his defensive duties. Moses enjoyed a wonderful half, combining pace and trickery to often get into great positions on the left flank, and he capped off his impressive first half performance with a well taken goal, to hand his side the lead.
Meanwhile, Swansea chased shadows in the first half, struggling to dictate the tempo of the match, in the first half. Britton and Shelvey were able to sustain possession in deep positions, but failed tip the balance of the match in Liverpool’s third. Opposed to providing penetration from central areas, Laudrup’s men relied on Dyer’s confident runs from wide areas to push them forward, where he often played balls to the opposite flanks or to Bony and Michu between the lines.
Liverpool were balanced in wide areas – they focused on midfield superiority and exposing the space on the left flank, while Swansea lacked an attacking balance, thus calling for a change in shape in the second half.
As expected, Laudrup tinkered with his tactical shape, introducing Jonathan De Guzman for Dyer, which left Swansea in a 4-3-1-2. De Guzman tucked into midfield on the right side and Routledge moved over to the left. While this did leave Rangel without any protection, he was encouraged to move forward and he often got behind Moses, providing width on the right flank.
Yet, despite Rangel’s threat from out wide, Swansea began to dominate midfield. Liverpool’s lack of pressure allowed De Guzman and Britton to keep possession, thus putting Shelvey in his comfort zone to attack space from deep positions. Shelvey looked uncomfortable in a double-pivot as his runs from midfield was limited, and surprisingly his role in midfield led to Michu’s equalizer.
Shelvey made a run from a deeper position in midfield dragging a Liverpool defender out of position, leaving space for Michu to attack – Shelvey cleverly nodded the direct ball into space for Michu to latch onto, and strike past Mignolet. Laudrup’s tactical change led to Michu’s equalizer but also contributed to Swansea’s dominance in the second half.
Bony was unable to complete the full 90 minutes, which saw Pozuelo enter the match, as Swansea reverted back to a 4-2-3-1. Pozuelo was positioned on the right, but he often drifted into midfield, while Shelvey moved closer to Michu. Swansea continued to create chances, but they were unable to find a winner.
Laudrup’s tactical change allowed his side to stamp their authority in the match – they focused on equaling the numbers in midfield, and Shelvey’s forward running,
Liverpool remains top of the Premier League with the draw – Rodgers’ men dominated the first, while Swansea picked up the tempo in the final 45 minutes, in a match that saw Shelvey contribute to all four goals. Laudrup’s tactical alteration shifted the match in terms of dominance, and based on chances created, Swansea were worthy of three points.
“I thought the assessment was simple. In the first 65 minutes, we were very good, both with and without the ball, and we looked really in control for that first 25 minutes,” Rodgers said.
“We showed great character to come from behind so early on in the game, but probably young Coutinho going off disrupted the flow of our game,” he added.
Rodgers will be content with the point, but he’ll more concerned with the recurring dip in second half performances. Liverpool have coped well without suspended striker Luis Suarez, but they lacked creativity in the second half and that will be an issue Rodgers will need to address in the future – what shouldn’t go unnoticed was how poor Liverpool was, once Coutinho departed.