A match away at Swansea City should not be much of a concern for Liverpool this season. The way that the side from Anfield are playing they should have been able to blow past their opponents with relative ease. In the end though Liverpool had to settle for a 2-1 victory. Surely though winning when playing badly is the mark of champions, or at the very least of title contenders.
Before the recent Hull City match there were concerns around the fan base that we would see Hull effectively adopt the Burnley blueprint to stifle the attacking fluidity that we have seen so far this season from Liverpool. In the event of the match though Hull conceded early and then had a man sent off as Liverpool strolled to victory.
The first half of the match against Swansea was one of the worst that we have seen so far this season from Liverpool. Their movement was slow and their passing was disjointed as they struggled time and time again to find a way to penetrate the defensive structure of Swansea.
There was a definite lull after the forced substitution of Adam Lallana who was replaced by Daniel Sturridge forcing a change in structure with Coutinho moving inside to a traditional central midfield role and Roberto Firmino shifting out to the left side.
After half-time there was a sense of purpose about Liverpool as they applied mounting pressure on the Swansea defensive structure. Once Firmino found space to head home the equaliser you always thought that Liverpool would go on to find a winner.
There were only small changes to the Liverpool starting line up from the match against Hull City. Dejan Lovren came back to the starting line up in the left sided centre back slot and replaced Ragnar Klavan.
In goal Loris Karius continued to start over the Belgian international Simon Migniolet and in the attacking third Klopp chose to continue with the trip of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Coutinho with Daniel Sturrudge again consigned to a place on the bench.
For Swansea the biggest piece of team news surrounded their lone striker role with summer signing Borja Baston replacing his fellow Spaniard Fernando Llorente in the starting line up.
First half issues
It quickly became apparent in the match that Swansea had identified the connection between the goalkeeper, central defenders and Jordan Henderson in the controlling number ‘6’ role as one of the key aspects to Liverpool’s build up play.
Over recent weeks we have seen more teams pressing up to effectively man mark Henderson when Liverpool are looking to play out of the back. This simple defensive movement from the opposition is an effective way to force Liverpool to bypass the initial pass forward and play more direct in to the central midfielders.
Essentially it stops Liverpool from having full control over the ball as they build up.
Here you can see the typical shape that we saw from Swansea as they pressed in their defensive shape. They chose to not commit too many players forward in the initial movement so that they could properly defend the pass from the central defenders in to the middle third.
Instead of trying to force a situation in which they had a numerical superiority in their press they would use movement and positioning intelligently to prevent Liverpool from accessing the space that they usually play through.
After they had scored the first goal Swansea started to switch between different pressing systems. This is a tactical mechanism that is used often in Italy but rarely in the Premier League. By changing from the pressing that we saw above to a more passive but solid medium block Swansea were able to keep Liverpool guessing and prevent them from finding an easy solution to play through.
When Swansea dropped in to their more passive defensive shape after scoring the first goal, Liverpool struggled to find a viable passing lane to move the ball easily in to the final third.
This resulted in Coutinho becoming frustrated and dropping in to deep areas to receive the ball, as you can see above though the deep positioning from Coutinho simply played in to the hands of Swansea as they were content to allow Liverpool comfortable possession in front of their midfield line.
If Coutinho was able instead to find pockets of space in between the defensive structure of Swansea then the option to play forward through the Swansea structure may have been available.
One of the key attacking aspects to the Liverpool system so far this season has been the width and movement that they have managed in the key areas of the final third. All too often though in the first half the attacking structure for Liverpool was narrow and ineffective.
As you can see from this image, As Liverpool are trying to apply pressure to the Swansea defensive line following a direct pass up the pitch the front three have bunched centrally and are unable to provide width should the ball be brought under control by a Liverpool player.
A stronger second half
In the second half Liverpool appeared to be far stronger. This is both a result of the organisational and tactical ability of Klopp and his adjustments at half-time added to Swansea dropping deeper trying desperately to protect their lead.
One of the key improvements in the second half of the match saw Liverpool begin to find spaces within the defensive structure of Swansea. Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane in particular were able to get on the ball in dangerous areas of the pitch far easier than they were in the first half.
Here you can see an example of a time when Liverpool were able to build through a vertical pass in to Firmino in a pocket of space. This type of pass allows Firmino to turn past the Swansea midfield and either pass or run in to a dangerous advanced area.
The second half also brought a huge improvement in the spacing of the Liverpool side in the attacking moments. As we have already seen in the first half there were structural issues with the positioning that led to Liverpool being bunched centrally and unable to access the wide areas.
In the second half, after the adjustments that were made at half-time, we saw a very different story.
The image above shows Liverpool in a very strong position deep in the Swansea half. The spacing of their players in the wide and central areas offer options to attack down various vertical lanes. They can also overload the Swansea defensive structure in wide areas in the need arises.
We also saw a shift back towards the way that Liverpool had been playing in various matches with the increase in movement and interplay around the oppositions penalty area that was so successful in recent matches against Leicester City and Hull City.
Here you can see a still from a moment of impressive interplay in the final third. As Liverpool have possession of the ball in the final third of the pitch we see Roberto Firmino make the kind of run that has almost become his trademark over the course of the season.
He moves from the central area in to the empty space on the edge of the box and that simple piece of movement is enough to move the defensive players out of the centre. The far-sided attacking player then mirrors the run and moves in to the central area. These two instances of movement cause enough confusion to allow a runner from deep to move in to the box unmarked.
This match was in no way a classic. In the first half in particular Swansea were actually the better side for large periods and they had chances to extend their 1-0 lead. Liverpool were stale and slow in their attacking movements and struggled to find a way to access the Swansea defensive block.
The second half though was an altogether different story as Liverpool played with better structure and more purpose as they pushed Swansea progressively further and further back towards their own goal. Once again Jurgen Klopp showed his worth to Liverpool in this match with his eye for tactical adjustments and opportunities at the interval.
It is certainly far too early in the season to realistically talk about any side as potential champions but there is no doubt that a win like this in a match that started so badly is exactly the type of result that can see you challenge at the very top of the table.