We have now witnessed another heart-stopping performance from Liverpool. Luckily not heart-breaking but in some ways heart-warming. But it was a close shave. And a decisive goal at the death for the umpteenth time this season. Already.
Liverpool has established a habit of leaving it late this season forcing supporters to exercise nail-biting in the extreme. And all the late drama is also a good thing for pharmacies selling nerve medicine, antianxiety drugs, tranquillizers and similar stuff. The Liverpool fans are forming long queues outside.
Joking apart, it´s really been a merry-go-round season so far making us dizzy, confused and frustrated. And a few times deliriously happy. As yesterday when we managed to hit a winner in the dying seconds and progress in the League Cup.
Okay, to get to the fifth round of the League Cup isn´t a unbeliviable feat. But due to the state Liverpool is in right now and how the victory came by I couldn´t stop myself from screaming and jumping for joy when Dejan Lovren headed home. A winner in the 95th minute is the most satisfying thing.
Furthermore, the Liverpool performance was the best since the Tottenham game in August. The 2-1 win at Anfield versus Swansea in the fourth round of the League Cup was not vintage but the positives outweighed the negatives.
In the first half the Reds were aggressive and won the ball constantly. The players moved well and made themselves available for a pass. The will to attack was there and we came pretty close to scoring on a couple of occasions. But on the whole Liverpool didn´t create chances which are impossible to miss. I mean the ones where a player has an open goal with the ball at his feet. Yesterday, and all season, it has required something good or special from Liverpool players to put the ball in the net. These kind of chances could go begging as well as ending up in the net.
So, why are the super-gilt-edged chances eluding us? Well, it´s because Liverpool players seldom manage to hit a perfect final pass to completely outfox the opposition. The goalscorer has almost always someone to muscle with or some legs to shoot through to be able to make the effort count. This makes goalscoring hazardous. Sometimes you get lucky, as yesterday, other times not, as versus Hull at the weekend. To learn how to unlock tight defences is a thing Liverpool must work on. A lot.
Back to the Swansea game. The fine effort in the first half was of course helped by a cautious, slow and seemingly uninterested Swansea side. They never troubled our defence and happily gave us all of the possession. The Reds were good, but Swansea´s lame effort made it a lot easier. For instance, it was oceans of space in midfield for Jordan Henderson, Lucas Leiva and especially Philippe Coutinho to roam in.
In the second half Swansea came to live, started to pass the ball better, attacking with more people and was also more aggressive defensively. It became a pretty even contest with Liverpool still being the slightly dominant side. The Swansea goal came out of the blue and was really fortunate. A couple of lucky bounces and suddenly Marvin Emnes was clean through and made it 1-0. It could have been avoided though, but central defender Dejan Lovren was ball-watching never realizing the danger and so was goalkeeper Brad Jones.
But Liverpool never gave up and continued to attack and create. Encouraging to see. I was never down-hearted or faint-hearted and really believed we could turn things around. And in a frantic final minutes Mario Balotelli scored after a brilliant cross from Fabio Borini. Could this goal be the first in English football where two Italians assisted and scored? It surely hasn´t happened often, if all.
Then all action man Philippe Coutinho stepped up and produced the pass for Dejan Lovren to grab the winner. Coutinho´s long ball seemed misdirected and floated over the penalty area, including the goal keeper, but at the back post Lovren was on hand to use his head and steer the ball home.
Liverpool´s line-up was changed radically from the Hull game at the weekend. And at least three of the ”new” players took their chance to stake a claim for a regular starting berth. Fabio Borini was on fire and worked like a slave. He was involved all the time and had some shots at goal and produced some good passes and left the best one for Balotelli´s equalizer. The Italian also gave his all defensively.
Lucas Leiva also had a good game. His main contribution was a host of interceptions, both with foot and head. Many Swansea attacks was stopped by the Brazilian. He also hit a few accurate long passes and didn´t make any clumsy challenges in dangerous areas. Kolo Toure was also in fine form. He was calm, assured and made no mistakes.
But two other players didn´t make god account for themselves. Lazar Markovic failed once more to impress and was invisible for long periods. Rickie Lambert started well with a couple of good runs but faded quickly and constantly.
One bright spot was the never-say-die effort from playmaker Philippe Coutinho. He was in thick of things for the entire 90 minutes. He has never unleashed so many shots at goal and his attempts to find a team-mate in good positions in the penalty area kept coming. His efforts were both good and bad, mostly good, but above all, never stopped. If he missed he didn´t get dejected but tried again. And Again. Until his final pass of the game became decisive. That´s the way to do it.
On the whole an entertaining match with Liverpool creating, moving and defending a lot better than lately. Now we must do the same against Newcastle on Saturday to really be geared up for the games after that: Real Madrid in the Champions League and Chelsea in the league.
Here are my ratings for the Reds who participated in the fourth round of the League Cup (on a scale from 1 to 10):
GK Brad Jones 5.
Should have done better when Swansea scored but otherwise a good display. Had a few shots and headers to handle and did it well, left no rebounds.
RB Javier Manquillo 4.
Battled hard against Swansea´s Montero and came out on top most of the time. Attacked a lot but wasn´t able to create anything with his crosses and passes.
CB Kolo Toure 5.
Didn´t have to engage so much but the things he did, he did well. Passed the ball accurately and was rightly positioned in defence. Encouraged the team.
CB Dejan Lovren 5.
Was slightly at fault for the Swansea goal when he reacted too slow. Made up for it with a more confident display than of late and with a nicely taken winning goal.
LB Glen Johnson 5.
Was full of energy and worked hard throughout. No major mistakes defensively but didn´t contribute so much going forward.
DM Lucas Leiva 6.
His best performance for a long time. Broke constantly up play in midfield and was meticulous in his passing. Was also involved in attack from time to time.
DM Jordan Henderson 4.
Started well and dominated the pitch for 20 minutes. But then he more and more disappeared from the action. Did a good defensive job.
RM Fabio Borini 6.
Was keen and out to grab his chance. Ran a lot, played well, created for others, had a go at goal a couple of times and tackled hard. Probably his best effort in a red shirt.
AM Philippe Coutinho 6.
His most workaholic type of performance ever. Never stopped probing and creating and shot whenever possible. Mixed good things with bad but his assist led to the winner.
LM Lazar Markovic 2.
Has big trouble finding his feet in English football. Combines meaningless runs with disapperaring acts. Must start to to do the simple things and take it from there.
CF Rickie Lambert 3.
Seemed alert and made som smart runs in the beginning. But his involvement diminished by the minute. Must get his first goal to boost self-confidence.
LM Adam Lallana 3. (Replaced Lazar Markovic after 70 mins).
Never got going and apparently he is not effective coming off the bench.
CF Mario Balotelli 4. (Replaced Rickie Lambert after 79 mins).
Didn´t do so much beside the goal. But that was enough this time.
The win against Swansea put us in the quarter finals of the League Cup and only three steps from silverware. Let´s climb over one more hurdle in the next round when:
We Go Again.