Every player had a good game, the team performed well for almost the entire 90 minutes, we scored four goals against a competent opponent and didn´t make many mistakes in defence. Is this a sentence after a match last season? No, lo and behold, it´s a description of Liverpool´s display versus Swansea yesterday. Finally the Reds showed what they can do when on song.
Suddenly Liverpool came up with a formidable showing. The 4-1 win at Anfield was our best exhibition in the league this season. And it came in large out of the blue. I don´t think anybody had expected this, especially after the poor performance versus Burnley in the previous match. And the peculiar line-up didn´t help to install much confidence beforehand. But it proved to be a, if not masterstroke by manager Brendan Rodgers, at least a cunning move. The team hasn´t been this balanced in a long time and both offensively and defensively it worked like a charm. Yes, we had some usual mishaps in defence, both when the goal was conceded and on a few other occasions. But when the attack was so lethal it didn´t matter so much.
For quite some time I have recommended a line-up with Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling in it. My belief was that the trio could cause opponents a lot of trouble with their pace, technique, ideas and trickery. For a few matches now my wish has been granted and yesterday we really saw the havoc the diminutive trio can wreak. They didn´t give Swansea one second of rest, they swarmed over their defence like the locusts of Egypt, even if they were only three. And help came in abundance from several other players. Jordan Henderson had his best game of the season, by far, and even Lucas Leiva participated ably in attack.
The most odd thing about the line-up was two full-backs playing high up the pitch, more as wingers than anything else. But Alberto Moreno and Javier Manquillo took like ducks to water and were both productive going forward and still had time to defend when necessary.
The formation with four midfielders having both defensive and attacking duties worked truly well. For most of the time they took the right decisions when to harrass the opposition in possession or lie deep and wait. Attack-wise they also was clever and when two went forward the other two held back. This is how a midfield should play. All four doing dirty defensive work and giving it all in attack. Their relentless input made it possible for the three defenders to concentrate on their specific duties and the three forwards could focus on tormenting the visiting back line.
For the first time we really had a 3-4-3 formation and it was a hit. The recent previous ones called 3-4-3 had been more of 3-2-4-1 or 3-3-3-1 and not really working. With this particular personnel all clicked into gear. Liverpool was aggressive, won the ball early, passed it well in a high tempo, created a lot and seemed to be having fun on the pitch. Now we must give this formation and line-up more chances even if it means that captain Steven Gerrard gets some bench-time.
The attacking play was as good as it gets. Okay, we can still be more sharp in front of goal and the decision-making isn´t perfect all the time. But on the whole Liverpool was both entertaining and frightening going forward.
In defence some flaws are still there. The Reds have too many concentration lapses when we think we have cleared our lines and it gives the opposition goal-chances. Same goes for the ball-watching. And sometimes the players try to play the ball out of danger when the best option is to hoof it away. Clumsy passes going astray is also a weakness.
The Red defence is making these mistakes and too often it ends up with a goal conceded. It happened yesterday once more when Swansea scored. And in the last 15 minutes Liverpool really lost the defensive focus when believing we were home and dry. Swansea could easily have scored a couple more and made it a nervy finish to the match.
But for most of the match our defensive actions were pretty solid and we are steadily getting better and more assured. I am less and less afraid of accidents when Mamadou Sakho is on the ball and Emre Can has stabilised the defence with his calmess and power. Hopefully their contribution will make Martin Skrtel more relaxed so he can eradicate his sometimes rash challenges.
For once I enjoyed a Liverpool match to the full. And the best thing was to witness the magic of our playmaking wizard Philippe Coutinho. We all know his strenghts but yesterday he used every tool in the box. He is an expert in stopping, starting, twisting and turning making opponents completely dizzy, dazzled and confused. He goes one way, they take a hike in another county. In this regard he was in an unstoppable mood last night.
And that´s even before I´ve mentioned his fantastic passes. They were short, long, flicks or back-heels and anything you can name. Yesterday he hardly missed a pass. He was also defensively keen, winning the ball with tackles and interceptions.
The only thing missing was a goal. Not that he didn´t try, a couple of excellent efforts were close enough and he was worth finding the net. And the standing ovation he got when leaving the field in the 90th minute. This was Coutinho´s best performance in a red shirt, I hope and believe it´ll be many more of the same calibre. Remember he is still only 22 years old, it´s frightening to think how good our whizz kid will be in four or five years. The staff must do everything to keep him on Liverpool books.
It was also great to see Adam Lallana getting his big breakthrough with the Liverbird on his chest. His second goal was of the highest quality and he was a menace throughout. Jordan Henderson was another impressive customer. He has been rather subdued lately but came to live when given more responsibility in Gerrards absence. He did a fine job all over the pitch.
The best thing, though, was that no player underperformed. Everybody put in a respectable shift and contributed to to some fine football.
Now Liverpool must maintain this standard and not fall into the trap of being over-confident. This was just one good performance. More of the same in the coming months, then we can talk about getting somewhere.
Here are my ratings for the Reds who participated in the 19th league match of the season (on a scale from 1 to 10):
GK Simon Mignolet 5.
Made som fine saves but was a little bit passive when Swansea scored. Not good with his feet.
RB Emre Can 6.
Defensively very solid and participated in the forward play with some success.
CB Martin Skrtel 6.
No particular errors in defence and had his moments when the Reds had set-pieces.
LB Mamadou Sakho 5.
Good defensive work and passed the ball well for most of the time. Mistimed a clearence when Swansea scored.
RM Javier Manquillo 5.
Worked hard, ran a lot and helped out all over the pitch. No end product offensively.
CM Lucas Leiva 5.
Quietly went about his job both defensively and in attack. No major contributions.
CM Jordan Henderson 6.
Constantly involved and was effective in defence and created goals and chances.
LM Alberto Moreno 5.
Never stopped running and was at hand in both ends of the field. Scored a fine goal.
RF Adam Lallana 7.
Was everywhere making things happen. Scored two goals, one lucky and one excellent. Could and should have scored one more.
CF Raheem Sterling 5.
Threathened with his pace but made some poor decisions. Overrates his ability to dribble.
LF Philippe Coutinho 9.
A real masterclass. Created for 90 minutes with his smart movements and ball skills. Unlucky not to score but his back-heel for Lallana´s second was an act of brilliance. One of many.
RF Lazar Markovic 3. (Replaced Adam Lallana after 77 mins).
Was eager coming on but not so much happened around him.
CF Mario Balotelli 3. (Replaced Raheem Sterling after 83 mins).
Combined well with his teammates on a few occasions.
LF Fabio Borini 1. (Replaced Philippe Coutinho after 90 mins).
No time to make an impression.
The victory against Swansea was pleasing for a couple of reasons. The football was of high quality and above all the Reds are now back in contention for top four. We are just five points behind Southampton in fourth place, a surmountable obstacle. Now we need to do the same against Leicester on New Years Day as we did against Swansea when:
We Go Again.