Belfast Telegraph

Adam Lallana at the double as Liverpool send out message

Liverpool 4 - Swansea 1

By Ian Herbert

Before the light goes out on an extraordinary year for Liverpool - of which it would be an understatement to say there have been highs and lows - here was a reminder that all is not necessarily lost.

This is a club who scored 71 home goals last season, the second best in the Premier League, but who had managed only 18, the division's worst tally, before last night and went into the fixture with nine joint top scorers - all on a tally of one. Brendan Rodgers promised it would take time for them to come good and this display and their first four-goal haul since the annihilation of Tottenham, last March, which suggested at the time that they might be champions, offers fragile hope.

Rodgers has searched for answers, chopped, changed and agonised, but in Liverpool's third goal the colour, energy, intelligence and pace of 2014 was recast in his 3-4-3 system. A Phillippe Coutinho backheel into the path of Adam Lallana, who burst around the Swansea defence to score, was a fitting combination from the two players who had lit up the night. Lallana's emergence as the prime beneficiary of the new system provides most promise.

Every Anfield fixture these days seems to remind Liverpool of the powers they once possessed, now have lost. Swansea at home last February was another of those fixtures they took by storm - 2-0 up inside 20 minutes, before that perennially shaky defence of theirs gave way and they needed to score four to win narrowly.

That was the Swansea manager Garry Monk's first game at the helm and though he looks every inch the Rodgers protégée - he has even got the Northern Irishman's hand signals off pat - Rodgers did not anticipate meeting him in a position where he was three points behind the Welsh club, 10 long months later.

An anxiety brooded on the cold Merseyside night as Rodgers fielded a goalkeeper, Simon Mignolet, who had come up with that bizarre suggestion, pre-match, that he had nothing to prove, starting his first game since he was dropped for his side's journey to Old Trafford. Jamie Carragher had it right on that point. "He's got everything to prove," he said. "Not just his Liverpool career but his whole future."

But Liverpool did not find need of him and neither, for once, was their talisman a requirement. There has been a tendency when Rodgers has dropped Steven Gerrard to the bench - as he did last night - for the side to look uncertain, fragile and in need of him, though this time was different. It was Gerrard who looked to be in an alien place, heading off up the touchline for a run and forgetting his bib, which he went back to fetch, while Liverpool revealed that the fluidity of their display against Arsenal nine days ago was no fluke.

The passing and movement was crisp and quick from the beginning, with the front line of Raheem Sterling, Lallana and Coutinho working together impressively and ambitiously.

Nothing could contain Liverpool as Moreno created and finished the opening goal - advancing on to a short ball from Mamadou Sakho, delivering sharply to Lallana and advancing to send the low cross from Henderson into the net.

It was 45 minutes before Mignolet was required to do so much and come to collect a high ball and the Anfield cheers came out of relief, not irony.

The irony was located in Monk, not Rodgers, being the manager with reasons to curse a goalkeeper. For all that he has had to thank Fabianski for in the past few days - key saves against Aston Villa and Hull City - the goalkeeper was culpable when Liverpool doubled their advantage six minutes into the second half, driving a dangerous back pass into the right shoulder of Lallana and watching as it sailed into the net.

A two-goal lead offers no more certainty for Liverpool now than it did last February and there were echoes of the sides' last encounter when the obligatory central defensive mistake from the back line handed Swansea an equaliser. Mamadou Sakho panicked under a Wayne Routledge cross, with Wilfried Bony threatening on his shoulder as Swansea displayed more intent, and sent the ball straight to Gylfi Sigurdsson, who slammed it home.

An unconvincing Mignolet stop from Sigurdsson moments later created a momentary sense that catastrophe lurked but then came the virtuoso goal which sent Lallana's name echoing around Anfield.

Fabianki allowed Liverpool to breathe completely. His faulty positioning from Henderson's corner just beyond the hour allowe the ball to skid off Shelvey's head into the net.

Both sides hit the woodwork, with substitute Bafétimbi Gomis crashing against the woodwork, but finally this season, Liverpool could justifiably say they were imperious.

 

Liverpool: Mignolet, Skrtel, Sakho, Manquillo, Moreno, Lucas, Henderson,  Can, Lallana (Markovic 77), Coutinho  (Borini 90), Sterling (Balotelli 83). Subs not used: Ward, Touré, Gerrard, Lambert.

Goals: Moreno 33, Lallana 51, 61 Shelvey (og) 69

Swansea: Fabianski, Richards (Rangel 45), Fernández, Williams,  Taylor, Britton (Ki Sung-yeung 67), Shelvey, Dyer, Sigurdsson, Routledge, Bony(Gomis 62). Subs not used: Tremmel,  Emnes, Carroll, Bartley.

Goal: Sigurdsson 52

Man of the match: Lallana

Rating: 7/10

Referee: Andre Marriner

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