Swansea pay for dreaming of Wembley against Liverpool
Liverpool 5 Swansea City 0: When Phil Parkinson rose from his seat yesterday, two thoughts would have accompanied the Bradford City manager back to his car.
The first would have been that, if Swansea City approach the Capital One Cup final with anything like this level of incompetence, he has every chance of becoming the first fourth-tier manager to lift a major trophy. The second is that he is unlikely to be facing this Swansea team on Sunday.
You could accuse Michael Laudrup of being utterly professional or you could wonder why, when preparing for a final against a League Two side that cost less than £10,000 to assemble, the Swansea manager felt it necessary to rest half-a-dozen first choice players.
Liverpool are not the kind of side to take liberties against. Lately, they have perfected the art of crushing mediocre opposition and those with their minds elsewhere. Kenny Dalglish's last game as Liverpool manager at Anfield had seen a Chelsea side who were mentally already in Munich, preparing for the European Cup final, brushed aside 4-1. Swansea's last defeat here had been an 8-0 humbling in 1990. Laudrup thought they might have conceded 10 yesterday.
"It was a nightmare," he reflected afterwards. "We were slaughtered in the first half and we were still in the game at half-time. Then, in the second half we gave away three goals in 10 minutes. It was awful.
"We have to say sorry to the fans who travelled from Wales. We rested Michu and, after the injury to Chico Flores, we rested Ashley Williams. We still should have been competitive and yet we could have lost 10-0.
"Their heads were somewhere else and it was horrible to watch. It was not what we wanted but what we got and we have to get back on our horse and prepare for the final." It had been thought Swansea would travel to Wembley by coach.
Only the dislocated shoulder that saw Fabio Borini writhing by the touchline in agony and which will cost the striker the rest of the season cast a shadow over Anfield. In the wake of defeats in three competitions to Oldham, West Bromwich Albion and Zenit St Petersburg, Brendan Rodgers required an emphatic show of strength if all the sneers about Barcelona on the Mersey were not to grow ever more spiteful. This was it.
Just before kick-off the statisticians from Opta noted that this season Liverpool averaged 11 attempts per goal. This was slightly better. There were 35 shots aimed at Michel Vorm's net and five were successful.
Liverpool had skimmed the crossbar, peppered the Kop with shots and, in Stewart Downing's case, threatened the corner flag before, finally, Swansea gave way.
Laudrup thought they had come through the worst when Daniel Sturridge headed over from close range and Philippe Coutinho somehow shot wide with Vorm on the turf and the goal gaping. However, having survived the shotgun blasts, Swansea drew a revolver and calmly aimed for the middle of their own foot.
Luis Suarez was in the area but the ball was going out of play and the Uruguayan was not an obvious threat when Dutch midfielder Kemy Augustien stuck out a leg and tripped him. The linesman, rather than the referee, Howard Webb, awarded the penalty and Steven Gerrard (left) who had missed from the spot against West Brom, stepped up to take it. This time, Liverpool's captain did not miss. It was driven into the right corner of Vorm's net, although the Dutchman was inches from it and slapped his gloves against the ground in fury. It was Liverpool's 15th shot of the afternoon.
Within 10 minutes of the restart, the game had become a rout. Coutinho, the slight, highly technical Brazilian midfielder for whom Rodgers paid Internazionale £8.5m, was given a standing ovation on his debut. Not just for the run that brought Liverpool's second but for the back-heel that might have brought a third, and much else besides.
Jose Enrique's anticipation of Sturridge's pass, which was wonderfully instinctive for a left-back, brought a third, and a slaloming run from Suarez created the fourth.
Vorm had just saved brilliantly with his feet from Sturridge when Swansea gave away a second, equally needless penalty as Wayne Routledge, for reasons best known to himself, stuck up a hand to meet Enrique's cross.
Gerrard was going to take it but Sturridge had unquestionably deserved a goal and the ball was passed to him. His penalty was not as good as his captain's but it produced the same result.
"Can we make the top four?" Rodgers reflected. "Every time I mention it, you guys in the press slaughter me for saying it. But I am a manager and therefore I am an optimist." So for the moment is Phil Parkinson.