Swansea win shootout against lacklustre Liverpool

It was the ultimate mismatch. Third-place against the side at the bottom of the table. The best attack in the league against the worst defence. Swansea City had little chance. Instead, they pulled off an upset for the ages, handing Liverpool their first home defeat in almost a year and gaining plenty of confidence in a statement victory.

To say the first half was dull would be something of an understatement: comatose would be a more accurate term. Liverpool dominated possession, but faced with a wall of white shirts they could not come close to penetrating Swansea’s disciplined defence. Neither goalkeeper was really troubled, and Liverpool seemed to have no answer to Swansea’s solid defensive front.

As the second half began, it soon became clear that they had no answer to Fernando Llorente, who took less than ten minutes to turn the match on its head. It began with a corner, conceded by Dejan Lovren after a back-pass gone wrong. Gylfi Sigurdsson whipped it in, where Federico Fernandez headed it towards goal. The ball landed at the feet of Wayne Routledge inside the six-yard-box, and Llorente couldn’t have had it any easier as he blasted it in. Inexplicably, goalkeeper Simon Mignolet was already on the ground, as the rest of his teammates just stood there watching.

Too easy: Fernando Llorente (second from left) blasts home the opening goal of the match.

Liverpool weren’t making much progress in recouping the deficit when Swansea’s lead doubled. It was Swansea’s two new signings who set it up, with Tom Carroll finding Martin Olsson on the left wing. Carroll kept running through and received a return pass before hitting a first-time cross which looped in and was met with an excellent header from Llorente. Mignolet had no chance. Liverpool didn’t look to have too much hope either.

Enter Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian had looked like Liverpool’s most dangerous player from the outset, and he immediately set to work on getting Liverpool back on level terms, scoring their first goal mere minutes after Swansea’s second. James Milner set it up, sending in an excellent cross from the left wing and finding Firmino, who was one-on-one with Olsson on the back post. It was a battle the Swede was never going to win, and a header Lukasz Fabianski was never going to stop.

Swansea recovered, and eventually they had taken some of the heat out of the game. Emre Can attempted a bicycle kick, fell over and gave away a foul as he tripped Jack Cork. It just looked like one of those days for Liverpool. Then, Firmino found the equaliser. Georginio Wijnaldum capitalised on a rare mistake from Fernandez to find space on the left, and his ball for Firmino was perfect. The Brazilian controlled it with his chest before driving it home with his left boot, sending the Anfield crowd into raptures. It was 2-2.

Unstoppable: Roberto Firmino (left) scores his first goal past Martin Olsson and Lukasz Fabianski.

Liverpool continued to press on, and another goal in the match looked inevitable. It came, just not for Liverpool. Swansea pushed up the field, with Leroy Fer picking out Llorente at the top of the box. He gave it to Carroll, the new signing, who looked to bulldoze his way past Ragnar Klavan and Lovren. It didn’t work, but the ball spilled wide, and Gylfi Sigurdsson was more than ready to put it away. He stretched for the ball, eventually sliding as he put the ball into the bottom corner and put Swansea ahead once again. They were not going to let it slip this time.

There were moments of chaos as both sides loaded the box. Daniel Sturridge was denied by Fabianski at close range, and Adam Lallana was at the centre of a piece of play which saw bodies flying everywhere. He controlled and attempted to shoot, and eventually the ball bounced into the bar. Fabianski flew through the air to try and stop it, but he could not get there and ended up in the back of his own net as the ball rebounded out. Sturridge collected it and found Lallana, who could not convert a close-range header. It was just one of those days.

In the end, Liverpool were very poor and didn’t deserve to win, and this result leaves them in serious trouble as they look for a drought-breaking title. For Swansea, it was a confidence boosting effort which will hold them in good stead for the rest of the season. They will have a tough relegation battle on their hands, and they may still go down, but this game will go down in history as one of their best wins. No matter what happens this season, they will always have this game.

Liverpool – Anfield
Liverpool 2 (Firmino 55, 69)
Swansea City 3 (Llorente 48, 52, Sigurdsson 74)
Referee: Kevin Friend

Liverpool (4-3-3): Mignolet – Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Milner; Can (Origi 70), Henderson, Wijnaldum (Matip 90+4); Lallana, Firmino, Coutinho (Sturridge 57).
Swansea City (4-2-3-1): Fabianski – Naughton, Fernandez, Mawson, Olsson (Rangel 79); Carroll, Cork; Routledge, Fer (Fulton 90+4), Sigurdsson; Llorente (Baston 85).

Top 5
1. Fernando Llorente (Swansea City)
Llorente didn’t get too many chances over the course of the ninety minutes, but when they came he was more than equal to the task, scoring both goals and providing a key presence in the box for the Swans. He showed his ability to find the ball in the box, and he performed his defensive duties well.
2. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool)
Firmino was the only Liverpool player who looked like scoring, and from start to finish he was head and shoulders above his teammates. He scored twice to throw Liverpool a lifeline in the game, and while his team wasn’t good enough to take it he can hold his head high after an excellent effort.
3. Federico Fernandez (Swansea City)
Fernandez was solid as a rock in Swansea’s defence, repelling attack after attack and pairing well with Alfie Mawson to keep Liverpool at bay. He played a key role in creating Swansea’s opening goal, and while he made a small error which allowed Liverpool to equalise he played a very strong game.
4. Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea City)
Sigurdsson was quiet in the first half, but his second half effort was excellent. His set-piece delivery was impeccable as he made the most of limited opportunities, and he scored a winner which was harder to convert than it looked. A class performance.
5. Tom Carroll (Swansea City)
On debut for Swansea after moving from Spurs, Carroll looked in great touch throughout. He assisted the second goal with an excellent cross, and he also played a key role in the winner. He defended well, and he showed that he could play a key role for Swansea as this season draws on.

2015-16 UEFA Champions League Preview – Group D

Juventus FC (Italy)

Manager: Massimiliano Allegri
Captain: Gianluigi Buffon
Ground: Juventus Stadium, Turin
Qualified: Serie A, 1st
Best Champions League Finish: Champions (1984-85, 1995-96)
2014-15 Champions League: Runners-up

Form Guide

Juventus won their fourth consecutive Serie A last season by a margin of 17 points over their nearest rival. They also made the Champions League final in new manager Massimiliano Allegri’s first season in charge, but lost to Barcelona. They have lost Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo and Carlos Tevez over the off-season, although Paul Pogba has stayed at the club after he rejected a big money contract from Chelsea.

Strengths

New signings Hernanes and Sami Khedira will give Paul Pogba and Claudio Marchisio support in the middle of the park, and they have signed three new strikers to try and replace Tevez. Mario Mandzukic is a strong player, and Paulo Dybala and Simone Zaza could be very good players in the future. Juan Cuadrado has been loaned in from Chelsea, and he can play on either flank. The defence is the one area where Juve have not lost anyone, and Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli are very strong players, and Patrice Evra, Alex Sandro and Stephan Lichtsteiner should ensure that there is no shortage of quality fullbacks. In goal, Gianluigi Buffon is still going strong after 20 years keeping at the top level for Parma and Juventus.

Weaknesses

While they have found replacements for their losses there is no guarantee that the replacements will be able to match the level of Pirlo, Vidal and Tevez. Juventus will not draw any confidence from their start to the season, with a disappointing loss to Udinese followed up by a loss to championship rivals Roma. Buffon, Chiellini, Marchisio, Bonucci, Barzagli and Evra are getting older, and while there are young players coming up in attack, the same players are not coming through in the defence. Allegri does not have a great track record as a manager, and whether the successes of last season were due to him or his great players is unclear.

Star Player: Paul Pogba

Pogba is currently one of the top midfielders in the world, and Chelsea were willing to shell out vast amounts of money to land the young French star. At 188 centimetres he is Juve’s main scoring option from set pieces, and he is a capable tackler and very capable in attack. Juventus will be particularly happy that he came from Manchester United for almost nothing.

Key Player: Gianluigi Buffon

Buffon is the only player to have 150 international caps for Italy, in an international career spanning back to 1997. He has played 425 times for Juve, and has never disappointed. His goalkeeping was good enough for him to be shortlisted, alongside 4 teammates, for the European player of the year award, and if he can keep as well as he did last season then Juve will do well.

Manchester City FC (England)

Manager: Manuel Pellegrini
Captain: Vincent Kompany
Ground: Etihad Stadium, Manchester
Qualified: Premier League, 2nd
Best Champions League Finish: Round of 16 (2013-14, 2014-15)
2014-15 Champions League: Round of 16

Form Guide

Manchester City were comfortably beaten in the league by Chelsea last season, and were knocked out for a second consecutive year by Barcelona in the Champions League. They have improved significantly under Manuel Pellegrini, and this year they are yet to concede a goal in the Premier League, with the side currently sitting pretty after four consecutive victories. This season they will be looking to build on their round of 16 exits of the last two tournaments.

Strengths

City have spent lots of money assembling one of the best squads in world football. German footballer of the year Kevin de Bruyne has been brought in from Wolfsburg for big money, and he will combine with the likes of Fabian Delph, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, David Silva, Jesus Navas, Fernando and Samir Nasri in midfield. Vincent Kompany marshals the defence, playing alongside Aleksandr Kolarov, Bacary Sagna, Pablo Zabaleta, Eliaquim Mangala, Martin Demichelis and Nicolas Otamendi. Joe Hart is in goal, and he has plenty of experience. Sergio Aguero and Wilfried Bony are quite different players, and they can combine well in attack. New acquisition Raheem Sterling is immensely talented, and his pace will prove too much for some teams to handle.

Weaknesses

While the side is very strong some questions still remain. Sterling is still largely unproven, and while his talent is beyond doubt there is some question as to his aptitude, and he has a tendency to get under the skin of the press and cause media scandals. The extra pressure that will be placed upon them to get past the round of 16 could prove too much, and comfortably getting through their group is something that they will try to work on. Last season it took a last-gasp goal against Bayern Munich to progress, and this is something they would like to avoid. Hart may have played a lot for England and Manchester City, but he is certainly not the best keeper going around.

Star Player: Sergio Aguero

In a team packed with stars, Aguero is the standout. He made his debut for Independiente aged just 15, breaking a record set by Diego Maradona in the process. While he found the net frequently with Atletico Madrid, with City he has stepped it up a notch, and he will need to continue to score well to help his side through.

Key Player: Yaya Toure

Now that de Bruyne is likely to take a spot in midfield alongside David Silva, Toure is likely to find himself playing in a more traditional defensive midfield spot. While he will be forced to play a more defensive game how the Ivorian gets forward and creates chances will be integral. If he can keep a fairly regular flow of goals while maintaining defensive duties then City will be very tough to beat.

Sevilla FC (Spain)

Manager: Unai Emery
Captain: Jose Antonio Reyes
Ground: Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, Seville
Qualified: UEFA Europa League, 1st
Best Champions League Finish: Quarter-Finals (1957-58)
2014-15 Champions League: Did not qualify

Form Guide

Sevilla finished a tense La Liga season in fifth, 1 point behind Valencia and 2 behind Atletico Madrid, but they qualified after winning their second consecutive Europa League title. They defeated Borussia Monchengladbach, Villareal, Zenit and Fiorentina on their way to the final, and in the first Europa League final which guaranteed the winner a Champions League spot they delivered, with two goals to Carlos Bacca enough to seal a 3-2 win against Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.

Strengths

Europa League hero Carlos Bacca may have left, but the forward line is still strong. Fernando Llorente, Michael Krohn-Dehli and Ciro Immobile have come in, joining former PSG frontman Kevin Gameiro. Ever Banega, Grzegorz Krychowiak and Steven N’Zonzi add strength in the middle of the park, and Yevhen Konoplyanka should cause plenty of issues in tandem with captain Jose Antonio Reyes. Benoit Tremoulinas, Coke and Adil Rami are strong players in defence. Beto and Sergio Rico are both strong goalkeepers, and their competition for a spot in the team should lead to good performances from both men. Sevilla have played a lot of Champions League quality teams in the Europa League, and the step up should not bother them too much.

Weaknesses

Questions remain about some areas of the side. Coke and Tremoulinas have got the fullback positions pinned down, but it is unclear who is the best player to partner Rami in the centre of defence. Krychowiak was chosen for the first game, but he is a defensive midfielder, not a centre back. Immobile may have been great at Torino two seasons ago, but at Dortmund it is fair to say he was a bit of a flop. As such, whether he is a suitable replacement for Bacca is unclear. The amount of Champions League experience on the team is not very high, and while they have faced some of their potential opponents they have not faced many teams of the calibre of Juventus and Manchester City. Their 3-0 loss to Atletico last time out will not fill them with confidence.

Star Player: Fernando Llorente

Llorente has been hanging on the edge of the Spanish team for years, first while at Athletic Bilbao and then with Juventus. His career with Athletic was very successful, and he played 333 times in all competitions for the side. He has arrived from Italy and is now in the first team at Sevilla, who will be hoping that he can deliver and score plenty of goals.

Key Player: Grzegorz Krychowiak

Krychowiak can play in the centre of defence or in midfield, and he had great success in his first season with Sevilla. He was the only player from the club named in the La Liga team of the season, and he is likely to take up a role in the centre of defence alongside Rami. Sevilla will be counting on him to perform his duties effectively and keep the defence solid.

Borussia Monchengladbach (Germany)

Manager: Lucien Favre
Captain: Martin Stranzl
Ground: Stadion im Borussia-Park, Monchengladbach
Qualified: Bundesliga, 3rd
Best Champions League Finish: Runners-up (1976-77)
2014-15 Champions League: Did not qualify

Form Guide

Monchengladbach finished three points behind Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga, but were still able to qualify automatically for the Champions League as a result. This season they will be hoping for success after years out of the competition, although they will be part of a tough group. Their European campaign finished last season at the hands of Sevilla in the Europa League round of 32, and they will hope that they can defeat the Spaniards this time around.

Strengths

Borussia Monchengladbach had one of the best defences in the Bundesliga last season, conceding only 26 goals. Yann Sommer has stepped up to become one of the league’s top keepers, and he has had experience in the competition with Basel. The defence of Martin Stranzl, Tony Jantschke, Oscar Wendt and Roel Brouwers is very strong, and Andre Hahn and Granit Xhaka provide solidity in midfield. Thorgan Hazard has a chance to try and step out of his brother Eden’s shadow, and he will be able to combine with Raffael, Patrick Herrmann, Josip Drmic and Lars Stindl to score plenty of goals. Harvard Nordveidt has lots of experience with Norway and he will add a lot to the midfield.

Weaknesses

The loss of Max Kruse to Champions League rivals Wolfsburg is big, and the side will struggle to make up the 11 goals that he scored last season, especially given the attack only managed 53 goals in the Bundesliga. Josip Drmic will have to play a key role in scoring those goals, and this pressure could have negative consequences for his form. Gladbach have not had a good start to the season, losing to Borussia Dortmund, Mainz and Werder Bremen and sitting at the bottom of the table. A lack of experience in the competition could ultimately cost them, and if they cannot handle the step up to the Champions League then they could be out the door very quickly.

Star Player: Yann Sommer

Sommer has become one of the best goalkeepers in Germany, and he is undoubtedly a star for Monchengladbach. Since breaking into the Basel first team he has not missed a beat, and after a great season in the Bundesliga he is ready to tackle the Champions League head on. His experience with Basel will be key, as the Germans have not made it to the Champions League for years.

Key Player: Raffael

Raffael was the leading scorer for Monchengladbach in the league last season, and they will hope that he can increase his output to try and cover for the loss of Kruse. He is a player who can definitely step up for Die Fohlen, and if he can score plenty of goals then this process will be made much easier for Gladbach.

Prediction

This group will be very tough, with four strong teams battling it out, but Manchester City and Juventus have more experience and look to have a slight leg-up over their inexperienced opponents. Borussia Monchengladbach may struggle, especially when trying to fill the void left by star player Kruse, who scored 11 goals and had 7 assists last season.
Prediction: 1. Manchester City, 2. Juventus, 3. Sevilla, 4. Borussia Monchengladbach.