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    Liverpool 1-0 Swansea City Match Report

    Liverpool won at Anfield for the first time in the league under Jurgen Klopp to continue their excellent run of form and inflict further misery on Swansea manager Garry Monk, whose side's slump in the league continues. James Milner's penalty just after the hour mark finally broke the resistance of a Swansea side that produced a spirited performance but lacked the attacking threat in the final third of the pitch that they have possessed in previous seasons.

    Although the home side were not at their attacking and free-flowing best, it was a performance where their patience was rewarded after finding the challenge of breaking down a stubborn Swansea defence a tough prososition. If Liverpool do go on to achieve their objectives in the league this season, which seem to be changing as each match passes, it is the kind of match they will look back on as vital, where they were never at their best but managed to come away with all three points. It did, however, take a harsh penalty decision to steer the match in their favour, with Neil Taylor being penalised for a handball that was more careless than it was deliberate.

    Perhaps even more important than the result was the return of both Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge to first-team action. The duo both appeared as substitutes in the second half, with a standing ovation greeting both men as they made their third and fourth appearances this season respectively. This alone made it a memorable day for the Liverpool faithful, even if the performance was lacking the sparkle that had been evident away from home in the attacking masterclasses displayed against Chelsea and Manchester City.

    Liverpool went into the game without Philippe Coutinho, who had not recovered from the hamstring injury he sustained against Manchester City. They reverted to a more rigid attacking formation in which Christian Benteke played as an out-and-out striker, with Roberto Firmino playing slightly deeper. Jordon Ibe replaced the suspended Lucas Leiva, forcing James Milner to play in a more defensive role. Gylfi Sigurdsson replaced the suspended Jonjo Shelvey in the only change that the visitors made following last week's 2-2 draw with Bournemouth.

    The Reds set out their intentions early on, with Leon Britton being pressed and dispossessed in midfield by Milner, who set up an move that nearly resulted in the home side taking the lead. Firmino, Benteke and Lallana all combined with lighting-pace and precision to put Jordon Ibe through on goal but he was denied by a combination of a last-ditch tackle by Kyle Bartley and a post. The Swansea defender's intervention was crucial in preventing Ibe from sizing-up an effort on goal but he could only watch on as his tackle cannoned off Fabianski's post and rebounded to relative safety.

    Liverpool, who had slightly more possession across the 90 minutes, had two appeals for a penalty in quick possession midway through the half, which were both waved away by referee Anthony Taylor. Firstly, Christian Benteke appeared to be blocked by Ashley Williams in his attempt to elevate himself to meet Lallana's cross, which prompted the Belgian to remonstrate his case to referee Taylor. From the resulting corner, the boot was on the other foot with Benteke incurring Williams' wrath when he easily went over just inside the penalty area following a clean and well-timed tackle by Welshman.

    After Liverpool failed to make the first-half breakthrough, Swansea grew into the match and could have taken the lead early in the second half through Ki Sung-Yueng. Following Sigurdsson's pull-back, the ball fell invitingly to the South Korean on the edge of the area but his effort sailed high over Mignolet's crossbar. It was a timely reminder that 'The Swans' still posed a threat in the final third of the pitch and had to be treated seriously by a home side that were far from their best following a busy fixture schedule in recent weeks.

    Liverpool improved in the second half, after an opening 45 minutes in which they rarely threatened, and Swansea goalkeeper Lucasz Fabianski needed to dive at full-stretch to deny 'The Reds' taking the lead through the lively Jordon Ibe. The England Under-21 international received the ball on the left-wing, came inside two Swansea defenders and fired an effort from 20 yards, which forced a sprawling dive from the former Arsenal goalkeeper to push the ball wide of the post.

    The most controversial moment of the match came just after the hour mark, when Liverpool were awarded a penalty that ultimately proved the difference between the two sides. Jordon Ibe's cross from the right-hand side was blocked by the elbow of Neil Taylor, who turned his back to the ball as he jumped to block the cross but clearly didn't intend to handle the ball. Although there were question marks as to why the Welsh defender turned his back to block the cross, he only raised his arms in order to gain leverage and can consider himself unfortunate that Anthony Taylor, on his assistant's advice, decided to point to the spot.

    James Milner made no mistake from 12 yards, placing the ball right-footed into the roof of the net, past Fabianski who had dived to his right-hand side. It was a lead that flattered the home side, who had been finding Swansea a tough nut to crack up to this point and were perhaps feeling the effects of Thursday night's 2-1 win over Bordeaux in the Europa League. The goal was greeted by a mightily-relieved Jurgen Klopp, who turned his back on the action when Milner stepped up to the spot but clenched his fist upon seeing the raucous home supporters celebrate the home side's breakthrough.

    Perhaps the Anfield faithful reserved their longest periods of applause, however, to mark the return to first-team action of Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge, who came off the bench midway through the second half. Captain Henderson, who has not featured since mid-August after fracturing a metatarsal against Bournemouth, replaced Firmino to the delight of the home crowd. Minutes later, Sturridge's return was heralded with an equally positive reception when he came on for Benteke to make his first appearance since the Merseyside derby at the beginning of October.

    Liverpool had a chance to put the game to bed with 15 minutes remaining through James Milner, whose left-footed effort from 15 yards was drilled across the six yard box and just wide of Fabianski's right-hand post. The former Manchester City midfielder had been put through on goal by substitute Henderson, while fellow substitute Sturridge was inches away from reaching Milner's effort to turn it into the back of the net.

    Swansea continued to show plenty of effort and endeavour throughout the match and pressed forward in the final 10 minutes in pursuit of an equaliser. Ashley Williams had a half-chance to level when he found himself unmarked from 12 yards but was unable to redirect Jack Cork's long-range effort on target. The visitors can also consider themselves a little unfortunate that referee Taylor overlooked a rumbustious challenge by Milner on Bartley in the build-up to Williams' attempt, when he clattered into the former Arsenal defender who would have been favourite for the ball.

    It was not a vintage Liverpool performance, and one that won't live long in the memory, but was nevertheless a vital win and one that keeps Jurgen Klopp's team in touch with the sides at the top of the table. With Liverpool looking a little jaded after the exploits against Bordeaux in the Europa League less than 72 hours earlier, it was understandable that they were unable to replicate the kind of form that saw them beat Manchester City 4-1 just eight days earlier. The most important aspect from their performance was their ability to win while not at their best, which had rarely been the case under Klopp's predecessor Brendan Rodgers.

    Klopp will also be delighted to finally record his first home win in the Premier League as Liverpool manager, which helps to rectify the club's poor form at Anfield in which they'd won just one of their past five matches. He will also be encouraged by the form of his defence, who kept their fourth clean sheet in his 10 matches in charge and limited Swansea to very few chances throughout the contest. Perhaps the biggest legacy from Sunday, however, will be the long-awaited return to first-team action of Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge, who will no doubt play a vital role for the club between now and the end of the season.

    The return of Henderson and Sturridge has increased the competition for places in the Liverpool side and is likely to cause the German plenty of selection headaches in the coming weeks. Henderson's return has coincided with Jordan Ibe's best run of form in a Liverpool shirt, while Sturridge will find it difficult to force himself into the team with Benteke and Firmino in such good form. With Liverpool battling on four fronts this season, their strong squad should boost the club's chances of winning a first piece of silverware since 2012, which many would have felt unlikely before Klopp's arrival.

    For Swansea, it was seventh defeat out of 11 in all competitions but Garry Monk's side can count themselves unfortunate that they didn't return to Wales with at least a point. The penalty was harsh and up until it was awarded, they frustrated an in-form Liverpool team and reduced them to very few chances. The visitors looked comfortable throughout the match, but it was the kind of tight game where only a piece of magic or a defensive mistake would most likely settle the outcome. Ultimately, it was a defensive mistake that cost Swansea, albeit one that on another day might not have resulted in such severe action.

    Garry Monk can take heart from Swansea's spirited performance, where they showed plenty of effort and endeavour and always remained in the match until the final whistle. The one aspect that he will be disappointed by is the lack of threat shown in the final third of the field, where they could not muster a shot on target throughout the match. With Bafetimbi Gomis, who has not scored since August, and Andre Ayew the only players in the Swansea side to score a league goal from open play this season, it is obvious to see what has caused the club to struggle in recent weeks.

    It is unlikely to get any easier for Swansea as their next match is a tricky encounter against Leicester City on Saturday, who sit joint-top of the league with Manchester City on 29 points. Their biggest challenge will be plotting how to stop Jamie Vardy from equalling Jimmy Dunne's 84-year record of scoring in 12 consecutive top flight matches. Liverpool, meanwhile, will be back in league action on Sunday with an away match against struggling Newcastle United, which comes just four days after the club's trip to Southampton in the quarter-finals of the Capital One Cup.
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    Item Reviewed: Liverpool 1-0 Swansea City Match Report Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Richard Tufft
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