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    Swansea City 3-1 Liverpool Match Report

    Swansea retained their Premier League status for another season after a convincing win over a weakened Liverpool side, who had one eye on Thursday's Europa League semi-final against Villarreal. Goals from Andre Ayew and Jack Cork gave the home side a two-goal lead going into the break and while Christian Benteke's header gave The Reds hope, it was soon dashed when Ayew's second of the game sealed the win.

    Francesco Guidolin's team looked by far the more threatening throughout the match, despite having less possession, and they capitalised on Liverpool's slow start and in particular their vulnerability from set-pieces. After falling 3-1 behind with a quarter of the match remaining, the visitors' hopes of a comeback were dashed within nine minutes when Brad Smith was sent-off for a second bookable offence. The defeat leaves Jurgen Klopp's side two positions below a guaranteed Europa League spot and it therefore places further importance on winning the competition in order to qualify for next season's Champions League.

    Both captains carried flowers onto the pitch before the match in memory of the 96 Liverpool supporters who were unlawfully killed in the Hillsborough disaster, as concluded by an inquest five days earlier. It provoked moving scenes around the Liberty Stadium as fans of both sides paid tribute to the victims with applause, both ahead of kick-off and after 27 minutes to mark the number of years that the victims' families have been campaigning for justice. It was Liverpool's first league game since the jury concluded their findings and came just 16 days after the 27th anniversary of the disaster.

    Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren and Philippe Coutinho were the only players to keep their places following the 1-0 defeat to Villarreal just three days earlier, while Daniel Sturridge was preferred to Christian Benteke in attack. Swansea, who needed at least a draw to be mathematically certain of preserving their Premier League status, made two changes from the team that was comprehensively beaten by Leicester City in their previous match. Jordi Amat and Jefferson Montero were brought into the side to replace Federico Fernandez and the injured Leroy Fer.

    After making an impressive start to the first half, Swansea were rewarded after 26 minutes when Andre Ayew powerfully headed home Gylfi Sigurdsson's corner to give his side a deserved lead. The 26-year-old had been denied just seconds earlier when his strike from just inside the penalty area, when played through on goal by Wayne Routledge's back heel, was deflected wide by Lovren. From the resulting corner, Liverpool once again showed their vulnerability at defending set-pieces as Ghana international Ayew nipped into the space vacated between Lovren and Martin Skrtel to head past Danny Ward from four yards.

    Swansea twice came close to doubling their lead in the opening 30 minutes through Amat and Montero, who were both recalled to the starting line-up following last weekend's heavy defeat and made a big difference to the team's performance at opposite ends of the field. Spanish defender Amat further exposed Liverpool's weaknesses in defence when he found himself unmarked, three yards from goal, but somehow managed to head Sigurdsson's free-kick over the bar when it looked easier to score. Minutes later, the lively Ecuadorian winger Montero played a give-and-go with Ayew, after Brad Smith had been caught in possession, but his fierce strike was expertly palmed away by Ward as it headed towards the bottom left-hand corner.

    The home side did finally extend their lead eight minutes before the break, courtesy of Jack Cork's first goal of the season and only his second for the club since his £3 million transfer from Southampton in January last year. The 26-year-old side-footed the ball from 20 yards, past the dive of Ward, after his pressing on Philippe Coutinho had resulted in the Brazilian conceding possession inside his own half. The two-goal lead that Swansea took into the break was a fair reflection of an opening 45 minutes in which they were by far the more industrious team and had the most efforts on goal and on target.

    Liverpool's best moments of the match came late in the first half and just after the interval, but it was a storm that Guidolin's side weathered before going on to strengthen their grip on the match. Daniel Sturridge came close to scoring eight minutes before half-time after Sheyi Ojo's excellent run and defence-splitting pass set up the chance, but his chip from a tight angle landed three yards wide of Lukasz Fabianski's left-hand post.

    The visitors did halve Swansea's lead, however, just after the hour-mark when substitute Christian Benteke headed home Ojo's inswinging cross into the bottom right-hand corner of Fabianski's goal from six yards. It was the Belgian's ninth goal of the season and was similar to the set-piece goal that Liverpool had earlier conceded, with Benteke escaping his marker Sigurdsson before being afforded a free header on the edge of the six-yard box.

    Swansea wrapped up the win four minutes later when Andre Ayew punished yet more defensive indecision to score his second goal of the game and tenth of the season. The move initially began when Lucas Leiva was caught in possession, which allowed Montero the chance to start one of his mazy runs on the left-wing. Although his subsequent cross was only clipped into the path of Ojo, the Liverpool youngster was duly outmuscled by Ayew before the Swansea forward drilled home a deflected strike on its way into the bottom left-hand corner past a flat-footed Ward.

    Liverpool's hopes of a comeback were further thwarted when Brad Smith was sent-off with less than 15 minutes remaining for a second bookable offence when he fouled substitute Kyle Naughton. The 22-year-old left-back had long been walking a tightrope after being yellow-carded earlier for pulling back Wayne Routledge on the edge of the penalty area, but his second booking was even more clear-cut. Although the foul he committed occurred inside his own half, he was guilty of a dangerous and high challenge that prevented a Swansea counter-attack.

    Daniel Sturridge was fortunate to survive a handball shout inside the Liverpool penalty area as the game reached its closing stages, while Angel Rangel fired into the side-netting when many supporters inside the stadium believed he had found the back of the net. It proved to be the last meaningful action of a match that Swansea had dominated from start to finish, exposing Liverpool's defensive weaknesses at key times as well as showing a ruthless edge in the final third of the field. Their defence, which had conceded seven goals in the previous two games, looked much tighter for the majority of the match and Guidolin's side limited the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge to very few opportunities.

    While Swansea achieved their objective of safety, Liverpool are yet to achieve their main ambitions of winning the Europa League and finishing in the top six or seven in the Premier League. Jurgen Klopp's selection policy suggests he is putting most of his eggs in the Europa League-winning basket at the expense of an insurance policy if they fail to win the competition this campaign. Whether or not this strategy is successful will be revealed over the course of time, but handing his players a seven-day rest in-between matches should give his side the maximum chance of winning a first European competition for nine years.

    After Thursday's Europa League semi-final second leg against Villarreal, Liverpool return to Premier League action to play Watford at Anfield on Sunday afternoon. The defeat, coupled with a Southampton win against Manchester City, means that Klopp's side trail The Saints by two points and drop to eighth position. Swansea, who climb above Bournemouth and West Brom into 13th place, take part in the penultimate match to ever be played at the Boleyn Ground against West Ham on Saturday afternoon.
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    Item Reviewed: Swansea City 3-1 Liverpool Match Report Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Richard Tufft
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