How Did Swansea City Nullify Mohamed Salah and Co?
Source: Swansea City Football Club via Facebook
For the most part of the 2017/18 Premier League season, Liverpool have been a force to be reckoned with. Jurgen Klopp has one of the best offensive units in world football, and that is even after Philippe Coutinho’s long-awaited move to Barcelona. In Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, Liverpool have enough quality to cause problems for Europe’s elite clubs.
And that is exactly what happened when Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City visited Anfield in January. Having avoided defeat in 22 successive top-flight fixtures heading into the contest, City were expected to prevail. Most neutrals believed that Liverpool’s attack would give the Premier League leaders a stern test but you would struggle to find many who predicted four goals for the home side.
Since that victory, Liverpool have had a bit of a wobble. Swansea City, led by new manager Carlos Carvalhal, managed to keep Klopp’s offense at bay, something of a rarity in recent years. The Welsh outfit worked tirelessly to prevent Liverpool from creating many clear-cut chances and, although they did ride their luck at times, Swansea were rewarded with a 1-0 victory courtesy of Alfie Mawson’s first-half effort.
According to BBC Sport, Liverpool had 21 shots in that clash but only four of those were on target. The Premier League is arguably the most competitive division in world football and you won’t win many football matches by forcing the goalkeeper to save just four shots. On his day, Lukasz Fabianski is an excellent shot stopper but he is hardly reliable – Liverpool should have tested the Swansea keeper early on.
Regular viewers of Barcelona may think that possession is everything but this fixture proved that you don't need to dominate in that category. Fans with long memories will recall Celtic’s 2-1 victory over the La Liga giants in 2012; Neil Lennon’s side had 11% possession. On that day, the Scottish side had five shots – all five on target. Being efficient and effective with the ball is the key when you are the underdog...
Celtic hosting Barcelona tonight in the Champions League. Throwback to the match stats from a few years back: pic.twitter.com/P6ZuBVvgly— Paddy Power (@paddypower) November 23, 2016
With 28% possession and two of their three shots on target, Swansea managed to keep hold of the ball more than Celtic but perhaps weren’t quite as influential in the final third. If you maintain possession, it takes away your opponent’s ability to score though and Mohamed Salah, a 5/1 shot in Paddy Power's football odds for the Golden Boot, was left frustrated at his lack of involvement on that fateful evening.
Liverpool followed that result up with a second successive defeat, this time at home against West Bromwich Albion in the FA Cup. Swansea’s defensive stability and frustration tactics really did work and they may have a longer-lasting effect than most initially anticipated. The Reds are still right up there in the race for the top four but Klopp’s men may struggle if other teams follow the Swansea blueprint for success.
Without a doubt, Swansea are Klopp’s bogey team. Since the German was appointed at the helm, Liverpool have lost three times to the Welsh side; more than any other top-flight rival. Swansea laid down a marker with that victory and it remains to be seen as to whether the Reds bounce back stronger or struggle to regain momentum after that shock defeat in south Wales.