The ball trailed across the Liverpool penalty area, leaving Modou Barrow with a simple job to do: clear it. For eighty minutes of the match momentum had swung both ways, but for now Swansea City and Liverpool were level, and a draw was looking like a fair outcome.
Swansea had a point to prove in front of their home fans, and they burst out of the blocks with energy and skill. Borja Baston, making his first start in the Premier League, found space for a header from the edge of the six-yard box, but his effort went wide. The Swans were turning up the heat from the outset, and Liverpool were struggling to cope.
The goal came within ten minutes, Leroy Fer capitalising on some poor defence to tap the ball into the back of the net. Gylfi Sigurdsson whipped in a corner, and after Baston headed it down Mike van der Hoorn was there to flick it on. The flick-on was destined for the back of the net, but Fer made sure of it with a very simple finish.
The clearance was straightforward, but Barrow still bungled it. The ball went straight up, flying into the Swansea sky and dropping back down again. Angel Rangel was quick to spot the danger, and he managed to work his way into a good position as he jostled with Roberto Firmino. He was in control, and looked as if he could handle the situation.
Last-ditch: Jordi Amat (in white) makes a strong challenge to deny Sadio Mane.
Liverpool tried to get themselves back into the game, but they could not find their rhythm. Nothing was going quite right for them, and an injury to an in-form Adam Lallana only set them back further. Farce ensued as the substitute was not yet ready, and Daniel Sturridge was finally introduced minutes after Lallana had left the pitch. It just seemed as if nothing was going right for Liverpool.
The ball landed in front of Rangel, and his control evaporated as soon as it did. It bounced towards the goals, leaving Rangel desperate to get the ball out of defence as soon as possible. Firmino was still lurking, and the Brazilian managed to get in front of his man, through on goal.
Liverpool gained more possession as the first half drew to a close, but most of their passes and shots were cut out, and they generally looked clunky. Sadio Mane looked like a massive threat when he cut in behind, but he was a rare example in an otherwise disappointing showing. As the first half drew to a close Sturridge received a booking for diving after throwing himself to the ground in the box. Swansea were conceding possession, but Liverpool looked like a toothless tiger.
At half-time, however, something clicked. Liverpool played with more purpose, and suddenly it did not look as if the Swans could weather the storm. Nathaniel Clyne and James Milner were pushing forward to good effect, and the Reds just looked more dangerous as they unlocked holes in Swansea’s defence.
Firmino was through on goal, having turned Rangel with incredible ease. Fabianski was waiting to deal with the situation, but Rangel had to try something. He made a last-ditch attempt to win the ball back, clumsily bringing down the Brazilian in the process and leaving referee Michael Oliver with no choice. He pointed to the spot.
Under pressure: Swansea manager Francesco Guidolin watches on.
Liverpool equalised less than ten minutes after the break. Philippe Coutinho drilled his free kick into the wall, but Jordan Henderson was there and he lifted the rebound over the top. Swansea had pushed up in unison to deal with the poor free kick, and Roberto Firmino found himself open without moving a muscle. Fabianski dived to save the header, but it evaded his clutches.
Liverpool were back on level footing, and it didn’t look as if they would be denied for much longer. Coutinho was only inches wide from the edge of the area. Kyle Naughton denied Mane from a dangerous position. Corner after corner came in, and Swansea needed a response. They worked hard, and it looked as if the Swans had taken back some of the initiative. Then Barrow bungled his clearance.
Milner was calm as he readied himself for the penalty, and there was no sign of nerves at the top of his run-up. He cruised smoothly towards the ball before driving it up the middle of the goal, well out of the reach of a diving Fabianski. The comeback was all but complete.
After the goal Liverpool attacked with renewed vigour, using the pace of Mane, Sturridge and the newly-introduced Divock Origi to open up holes in the Swansea defence. Coutinho forced an excellent reflex save from Fabianski after Origi’s cross missed Sturridge, and Jack Cork nearly scored an own goal after he slid in to block Emre Can’s dangerous ball across goal. Fabianski was there, and they survived. Swansea needed to score, but they seemed to have no chance.
Swansea had a last roll of the dice with a minute to play, when Rangel opened up a large hole in the Liverpool defence. His cross found van der Hoorn, who inexplicably missed a tap-in from point-blank range. It was a bad miss, and it ended a disappointing afternoon for the Swans. They needed to hold on, but it was not to be.
Swansea – Liberty Stadium
Swansea City 1 (Fer 8)
Liverpool 2 (Firmino 54, Milner 84 pen)
Referee: Michael Oliver
Swansea City (4-2-3-1): Fabianski – Rangel, van der Hoorn, Amat, Naughton; Britton (Ki 63), Cork; Routledge (Barrow 62), Fer (Fulton 72), Sigurdsson; Baston.
Liverpool (4-3-3): Karius – Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner; Lallana (Sturridge 23), Henderson, Wijnaldum (Can 85); Mane, Firmino (Origi 85), Coutinho.
1. Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Mane was Liverpool’s most dangerous player, using his pace to find pockets of space in the Swansea defence and showing great awareness to work his way into threatening positions. He was unlucky not to score on a number of occasions after he had close-range chances blocked, and he was largely responsible for Liverpool’s ability to turn the game around.
2. Leroy Fer (Swansea City)
Fer worked very hard throughout, and he applied plenty of pressure to the Liverpool defence with his ability to force mistakes and use the ball well. He scored Swansea’s only goal with a simple tap-in, and was solid when called back to defend.
3. Jordi Amat (Swansea City)
Amat was dominant in the first half, and while his influence waned as the game progressed he was a key part of Swansea’s defensive solidity. He made a number of excellent sliding challenges to deny Liverpool, and he made a number of key blocks to keep them at bay as they looked to break through.
4. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool)
Firmino stepped up in the big moments, scoring Liverpool’s first goal with a calm finish and winning the penalty which led to the second. He was not great in the first half, but when he was needed he delivered, and he was a key reason for Liverpool’s win.
5. Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool)
Coutinho stepped up in the second half, dropping slightly deeper to fill the void left by Lallana’s injury and spraying the ball around into dangerous positions. His long shots were a constant threat for Swansea to deal with, and he was in command in the middle of the park.