Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Shelvey the star as Swans hold Reds

For the record, Jonjo Shelvey is no longer a Liverpool player and now plays for Swansea City.

Not that the clean-shaven 21-year old midfielder acted like he’d made a summer switch from Merseyside to Wales when the Swans played host to the Reds in the Premier League’s Monday night offering.

Shelvey was simultaneously the hero and the villain for Michael Laudrup’s men. After opening the scoring after only a minute, Shelvey’s horrendous back pass sold keeper Vorm short and allowed Sturridge to net an instant equaliser. There was more pain for Shelvey as Moses exploited his misplaced pass to net on his debut, but he arguably made up for his errors by setting up Michu for the equaliser just after the hour mark. In the end, the result was Jonjo Shelvey 2-2 Jonjo Shelvey, and it’s obvious who the man of the match was!

New signings Mamadou Sakho and Victor Moses were handed debuts by Brendan Rodgers, as Daniel Agger missed out through injury and Iago Aspas dropped to the bench. Andre Wisdom also deputised for Glen Johnson at right back.

The match marking Liverpool manager Rodgers’ return to the Liberty Stadium began at a thrilling pace, with two goals in the opening three minutes a fitting introduction to a thoroughly entertaining game.  A minute in, Shelvey fluffed his lines with a shot from the edge of the box, but he took advantage of a lucky bounce of the ball to advance on goal, netting a calm left footed finish after evading the attention of Skrtel and Sakho.

Shelvey's joy was short-lived
He was soon left distraught, though, as he played a poor back pass, perhaps due to a lack of concentration after just netting against his former employers, gifting Daniel Sturridge a one-on-one situation with Vorm. With the former Chelsea player in sensational form, it came as no surprise to see him punish Shelvey and fire a superb finish into the net to level things up and bag his fourth goal in four games.

The rest of the first half persisted in an exhilarating end-to-end manner, with Coutinho and Bony seeing shots saved by the respective keepers and Sturridge and- you guessed it- Shelvey firing off target. Liverpool remained generally in the ascendancy, though, with their Brazilian playmaker Coutinho particularly influential and Victor Moses displaying signs of promise on the left wing.

Encouragingly, he linked up well with his fellow attackers as well, almost setting up Sturridge for his second midway through the first period. Terrific dribbling from Moses and a cross into the area gave Sturridge a seemingly unmissable opportunity but Vorm somehow managed to beat away his headed effort.

Liverpool didn't have to wait long to claim the lead, though, as Moses scored a debut goal on 36 minutes. Shelvey’s lackadaisical and misguided pass went straight to Moses, who sped menacingly towards goal and magnificently fired into the corner of the net to leave Shelvey’s face as red as Liverpool’s shirts.

Moses already looks a special signing
Nonetheless, the home side ended the first 45 minutes strongly and the visitors welcomed the interval when it arrived. Almost immediately after the Reds had gone in front, the Swans forced Skrtel into a brilliant sliding tackle to prevent Bony netting a simple tap-in.

The Welsh side also began the second half brightly, although their dominance and Liverpool’s decline didn't arrive until the turning point ten minutes after the restart, when Philippe Coutinho left the field with a shoulder injury to be replaced by the uninspiring Aspas. The statistics demonstrating the difference between Liverpool with and without Coutinho were damning. In the first half, Liverpool completed 48/66 attempted passes in the final third. They managed a mere four successful passes in the final third after the interval, with only 11 attempted.

Unable to retain the ball up-field, Liverpool were pushed further and further back by a resurgent Swansea. The hosts’ revival was rewarded on 64 minutes, when Shelvey’s flicked header found Michu, who converted low into the corner.

Michu yells in celebration of his equaliser
Credit to Shelvey, he recovered well after two fatal first half mistakes. Lesser players would have crumbled in his circumstances.

The closing stages were worrying for the Reds, as they once again failed to score in the second half after suffering a significant dip in form following the break. Swansea certainly looked the more likely to steal a win and the Merseysiders were more than happy to depart Wales with a point. Michu volleyed wide, before De Guzman’s free kick was turned around the post by Mignolet in between two attempts from the 26-year old attacking midfielder that flew wide and over.

Decent defending was required late on in order to secure the draw that keeps Liverpool unbeaten and at the top of the Premier League table. Although the Reds’ seeming inability to perform in the second half is a cause for concern and Coutinho’s injury could be particularly damaging to their attack, it’s hard to complain after taking 10 points from four games. It took Liverpool nine games to achieve the same points total last season, so clearly they have significantly progressed.

Victor Moses also appears to be another bargain signing from Chelsea, who seem far too willing to sell good players to Liverpool, while Sakho showed enough to suggest he has the potential to be a top quality defender, even if he did struggle at times.

Ultimately, the fact that a draw at Swansea feels like a defeat rather than a victory shows how far Liverpool have come from the often frustrating days of last season.


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