The pair of summer signings went some way to compensating for the slow starts to their Anfield careers by digging Liverpool out of a hole on Tuesday night. One goal behind thanks to Marvin Emnes’ strike midway through the second half, Liverpool looked to be heading towards the League Cup exit door.
Thankfully, though, Balotelli and Lovren averted another depressing defeat and saved the day. The former turned in Borini’s fantastic right wing cross on 86 minutes before the latter headed home a free kick in the last minute of injury time to book the Reds’ place in the last eight of a domestic cup competition for the first time during Rodgers’ reign in dramatic fashion.
The Northern Irish manager made nine changes to the side that disappointingly drew at home to Hull on Saturday, with Lovren and Manquillo the only survivors. Borini and Lambert were given the chance to impress up front as Balotelli began on the bench, while Steven Gerrard, Joe Allen and Raheem Sterling were sensibly left out altogether. In Gerrard’s absence, Henderson assumed the skipper’s duties.
As they did against Real Madrid and Hull, Liverpool started on the front foot, dominating possession, pinning Swansea back in their own half and creating chances. Frustratingly, however, the Reds were largely restricted to efforts from distance, finding it difficult to break into the Swans’ area and test goalkeeper Tremmel from close range.
Coutinho was the creative heart of the Merseysiders’ attack once again, but the couple of long range efforts that the Brazilian had during the opening stages failed to trouble Tremmel. Markovic, meanwhile, put in another sub-par performance which did nothing to allay Kopites’ concerns that Rodgers paid an exorbitant price for the Serbian when he bought him for £20 million from Portuguese side Benfica in the summer.
|Markovic needs more time to settle into English football|
One player who arguably impressed enough to warrant some game-time in more important matches was Fabio Borini. He linked up well with fellow Italian Balotelli, providing a wonderful assist for the number 45’s goal, and also looked dangerous during the first half, curling a left-footed effort inches wide and then forcing Tremmel to beat away another strike in quick succession ten minutes before the break.
More mobile and energetic than the ageing Lambert, Borini might just get the break he was hoping for when he turned down a move to QPR in the summer. He certainly deserves an opportunity, particularly considering how much Liverpool’s attack is struggling at the moment.
Swansea came back into the match during the final five minutes of the first half, ex-Red Jonjo Shelvey, who received a magnificent reception from the home supporters, calling Mignolet into action with a powerful low free kick on the stroke of half time.
Nonetheless, the game continued in much the same pattern after the restart, with Liverpool dominating but creating little and Swansea producing little of note either. It therefore came as a surprise when Marvin Emnes scored against the run of play on 65 minutes. Shelvey’s through ball to the Dutch striker looped off Manquillo and over Emnes’ head, but he intelligently watched the ball over his left shoulder before superbly volleying past Jones from a tight angle.
It was a cracking goal, which looked likely to prove the winner. Although Liverpool immediately responded through Johnson’s 25-yard strike, they remained unable to penetrate the penalty area and were looking severely short on ideas as to how to get back into the match.
That was until the arrival of Mario Balotelli with ten minutes remaining. Despite failing to find the net in 445 minutes of action, it only took the Italian six minutes to put Liverpool back on level terms. He beat his opponent to get on the end of Borini’s marvellous right wing cross and required only minimal effort to turn it past Tremmel from close range.
Thankfully, Liverpool completed the turnaround without needing half an hour of exhausting extra time. They did get a little bit of help from referee Keith Stroud, though, as he harshly sent off Swansea’s Federico Fernandez for a strong but arguably fair challenge on Coutinho. He dusted himself off and delivered a free kick into the danger area, where Lovren took advantage of Tremmel misjudging the flight of the ball to head into an empty net at the back post.
|Toure and Lovren watch on as Emnes opens the scoring|
|Balotelli equalised with only his second Liverpool goal|
|Lovren's late winner prevented extra time|