Three Points: Liverpool complete comfortable win vs. Swansea
LIVERPOOL, England -- Adam Lallana scored twice and Philippe Coutinho impressed as Liverpool beat Swansea 4-1 to finish 2014 in eighth place in the Premier League. Here are three observations from Monday's clash at Anfield:
1. Liverpool finally find the Anfield net
The last time Liverpool scored more than two goals at Anfield, Manchester City were defeated as they recorded their 10th successive win. It seemed at the time that the Premier League title was destined for Merseyside.
On this occasion, victory took them level on points with Swansea to leave them still five points adrift of fourth place.
Times have changed in the eight months between these two games, but at least the locals could savour the belated return of entertainment to Anfield. They had seen only seven Liverpool goals in eight home games before the 2-2 draw with Arsenal and this 4-1 victory over Brendan Rodgers' former club. Liverpool started creating chances when they visited Manchester United. Now they have begun converting them.
It helped that each of the front trio of Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana excelled. They brought invention and movement, qualities Liverpool possessed in abundance last season but ones they have not always demonstrated in the current campaign. It was notable, too, that Liverpool began brightly, which certainly wasn't the case for either of the two previous league games they started without the rested Steven Gerrard. This time there was no need to send an SOS to the sidelined skipper.
Liverpool got the lead they merited when Alberto Moreno converted Jordan Henderson's cross. The second goal was farcical; it was also a rare case of a goalkeeping error at Anfield that Simon Mignolet could enjoy. Lukasz Fabianski thumped his clearance into Lallana, which looped over the Pole and flew in from 20 yards.
After Sterling hit the inside of the post, Lallana burst through to add Liverpool's third after Coutinho's fine back-heel flick. It takes Lallana's tally to four goals in 12 league starts, a respectable number on what had been a goal-shy side.
The final goal came courtesy of an Anfield alumnus. Fifteen months earlier, Jonjo Shelvey had contributed to all four goals in a 2-2 draw at the Liberty Stadium. He showed further generosity to his old employer by glancing in Henderson's corner.
That wasn't his only notable contribution. Swansea manager Garry Monk had said beforehand that Shelvey needed to use his brain more often, advice the former Liverpool midfielder ignored when elbowing Emre Can. While he escaped a red card, it is the sort of incident the FA could review. Having been sent off already at Everton, Shelvey's actions on Merseyside could bring him a second suspension. As Monk had warned, such acts are why it is hard for his manager to trust such a talented player.
2. Moreno states his case
The marginalisation of Alberto Moreno has been one of the many strange elements of Liverpool's season. He has seen players as different and as unsuitable, in their different ways, as Lazar Markovic and Jose Enrique preferred on the left flank.
Despite his defensive deficiencies, the Spaniard's pace and attacking vigour mean there are times when he has appeared the most promising of their 2014 recruits. Even when Rodgers used wing-backs, a position that suits Moreno, Markovic was preferred, and while the Serb gave hints of his ability in the opposite half against Arsenal, Burnley exploited his unfamiliarity with the role.
Moreno was involved in the buildup on Monday. He arrived in the six-yard box to finish for the Reds' opener, albeit with a hint of fortune as he contrived to direct his shot at Fabianski rather than the gaping goal. Nevertheless, he doubled his tally for Liverpool and, together with a superb strike at Tottenham, illustrated that he can bring potency from a deeper position.
While he is unlikely to rival his fellow Spaniard Cesar Azpilicueta for the title of the best defensive left-back in the division, he should be tailor-made for this formation. The 3-4-2-1 system also suits players boasting the cleverness of Coutinho and Lallana. Both have been brighter since the change of shape. They are finding space between the lines while Sterling continues to stretch defences as a lone striker. (Sterling wasn't perfect, escaping censure for what looked like a clear slap to Federico Fernandez's face late in the game.) Coutinho was arguably the man of the match against Arsenal and, despite Lallana's brace, may have deserved the award again.
The problem for Rodgers is not his front three, but the back three. The search for a trio of reliable centre-backs goes on, and midfielder Can, who found himself as an auxiliary defender in the second half at Burnley, continued in his new role. To varying degrees, he, Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho were all at fault when Gylfi Sigurdsson struck for Swansea. Skrtel also picked up a caution for ripping Wayne Routledge's shorts in a particularly hapless piece of defending and is now suspended for the Leicester game on New Year's Day.
3. Bony ends prolific year without a goal
This was the second consecutive game at Anfield when the regulars had a chance to see a forward who eluded them. Alexis Sanchez was their prime target to replace Luis Suarez, but he preferred to go to London. Liverpool opted not to firm up their interest in Wilfried Bony. It is not exactly controversial to suggest that decision, coupled with the 16 million pound signing of Mario Balotelli, amounted to a mistake.
Balotelli came on for an eight-minute cameo long after Bony had gone off. Rodgers may be adamant that Liverpool will not sell their errant Italian in January, but that is more because they can't than out of any great willingness to persist with him. In the meantime, Bony has signed a new contract at the Liberty Stadium. He may now be permanently beyond Liverpool's grasp.
In the end, Bony's 63 minutes on the pitch are unlikely to be a glimpse into their future. With his boxer's bulk, aerial ability and capacity to cover ground while rarely needing to sprint, he is an imposing physical specimen. So, admittedly, is Balotelli, but the Ivorian's record shows he uses his power to greater effect.
Balotelli's only goal in domestic competitions came against Swansea in the Capital One Cup. Bony, in contrast, ends the calendar year as the top scorer in the Premier League. His 2014 has produced 20 goals. At least, from Liverpool's perspective, Bony, like Sanchez before him, did not add to his tally at Anfield. They have been spared further pangs of regret.
The Swansea striker's first effort was wayward and thrashed high into the Kop. Thereafter, his radar was more accurate. A header drew a diving save from Mignolet. A 20-yard shot forced another test of the goalkeeper's reactions.
Instead, the Liverpool target who did score was Sigurdsson, a man Rodgers wanted in 2012, although Bony, in a forceful challenge with Sakho, helped create the opening. But, for once, this was not a night to rue the one who got away.
Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.