Liverpool’s three-month unbeaten stretch sunk by Swansea
Alfie Mawson’s first-half goal secures vital victory for bottom of the table side
Swansea City’s Alfie Mawson celebrates scoring in the Premier League game against Liverpool at Liberty Stadium. Photograph: Rebecca Naden/Reuters
Swansea City 1 Liverpool 0
For Liverpool, it is jarring inconsistencies like this that have blighted Jürgen Klopp’s attempt to transition his side into title contenders. Liverpool severely lacked their mojo on a night when they were humbled by Swansea City, the Premier League’s bottom club, whose manager Carlos Carvalhal, said his team had to make do with buying sardines not lobster. A courageous performance to earn only their fifth league win all season dragged Liverpool behind the trawler.
For Swansea, six months into the season, perhaps this is lift-off. Alfie Mawson’s first-half strike from Sam Clucas’s corner handed them victory and destroyed the myth that Liverpool’s set-piece woes would instantly end with Virgil van Dijk in defence.
There was a befitting minute’s applause in memory of Jimmy Armfield and Cyrille Regis before the kick-off.
Liverpool, who had warmed up a few hours earlier by training along the M4 at Port Talbot Town, took time to get into their stride. With Jordan Henderson again absent with a hamstring injury, Emre Can was captain for the match – the sixth player to do so in as many matches – after Dejan Lovren, who led Liverpool in that boisterous display against Manchester City at Anfield eight days ago, missed the trip through illness.
Mohamed Salah soon threw off his gloves while Can instigated Liverpool’s first glimpse of Lukasz Fabianski’s goal. His diagonal pass picked out Sadio Mané, who had crept in behind his marker, Mike van der Hoorn. But by the time Mané latched on to the ball, the Swansea goalkeeper was there to smother. Andrew Robertson’s devious low ball into the box, which bobbled clear off Mawson, was another reminder of Liverpool’s attacking threat.
Swansea gave their own warning when Jordan Ayew lashed the ball home after Clucas evaded Joe Gomez. The only problem was that Ayew, after dribbling beyond Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, also ran the ball out of touch before shooting.
Swansea were looking organised but Carvalhal also allowed his full-backs, Martin Olsson and Kyle Naughton, to fly forward as well as defend. But when Mawson tugged at Salah’s shirt 25 yards from goal, you could forgive the home support for fearing the worst. Swansea shuddered but survived, although the resulting corner had Van Dijk nodding a header just wide.
It was role reversal a moment later when the Dutchman, a £75 million club-record signing, lofted the ball over the Swansea backline, only for Salah, first time, to volley over. Van Dijk’s centre-back partner, Jöel Matip, then rampaged forward unchallenged, playing a give-and-go with Salah, but the defender got himself in a tangle.
If that was an unfamiliar sight when Mawson steered home only the seventh league goal Swansea have scored at home this season . Van Dijk’s headed clearance from Clucas’s corner cannoned off Federico Fernández and into Mawson’s path, who showed rapid reactions to get away a shot that squeezed into the corner of Loris Karius’s goal.
Mawson exploded with joy while Carvalhal demanded his players prolong the celebrations inside Liverpool’s half. You could hardly blame them. Mané could have equalised but horribly miscued his effort from Salah’s curling cross. If that typified Liverpool’s frustrations, Robertson and Matip were later booked.
Ayew led the Swansea line admirably but, in light of little support, was also guilty of overplaying the ball. At one point, at the start of the second half, he raced beyond Mané before becoming unstuck in the box.
Klopp was not drawn into changing personnel at the interval but his team’s intentions altered. They were camped inside Swansea’s half for much of the second period, leading to Oxlade-Chamberlain flighting a superb ball in for Roberto Firmino, who wrestled in between Van der Hoorn and Fernández before the Swansea captain hacked the ball away.
Liverpool dominated possession as the hosts retreated further and further. Robertson, left alone too often by Nathan Dyer, twice found space and would have seemingly rippled the net but for Naughton’s magnificently-timed interception inside the box. Salah then scooped over as Liverpool changed up through the gears.
When Ki Sung-yueng clumsily upended Mané, Swansea surrendered a free-kick 20 yards from goal. Liverpool’s players formed a five-strong queue but it was Salah whose beautiful curling effort brought a fingertip save out of Fabianski.
Swansea, understandably, were a nervous wreck but continued to fight their corner. Carvalhal then substituted Tom Carroll in place of Dyer in an attempt to seize back some semblance of control.
As Carvalhal paced the touchline, Klopp sought changes in the shape of Adam Lallana and Danny Ings. The latter jinked away from Van der Hoorn before blasting at Fabianski, who cradled the ball. Then Van Dijk fired over from distance. For Swansea, the final few minutes felt like a lifetime, but they cherished every moment. – Guardian service