Swansea City were on the verge of sending Liverpool out of the League Cup for the second time in three seasons until a late fight back saw the hosts sneak into the quarter-finals.
With the fixtures coming thick and fast, Reds boss Brendan Rodgers rung the changes for the midweek meeting, though things looked pretty much the same as always when Jacks attacker Marvin Emnes swung in a highlight reel volley that beat stand-in ‘keeper Brad Jones just past the hour mark. Embattled striker Mario Balotelli was introduced into the fray right around the time the cause looked lost, but the Italian eased an effort past Gerhard Tremmel from a Fabio Borini cross to level proceedings before Dejan Lovren completed the turn-around by heading home Philippe Coutinho’s well-placed free-kick to spark wild celebrations in front of the Kop.
It wasn’t pretty, but it’s a job done. Liverpool’s failure to start the season in the same barnstorming fashion they ended the last has been the major talking point in these early days, and though they’re through to the next round, their performance will do nothing to quiet those wondering where the clinical side that dissected defenses with surgical precision went.
At this point, who cares? With a trip to Newcastle United on tap for the weekend before meetings with Real Madrid and Chelsea come in quick succession, we’ll have to find time to dwell on the past later. We’re very much in the present, and though the performance wasn’t of a particularly appealing vintage as we continued our frustrating trend of doing little with a dominate amount of possession, it was the League Cup on a Tuesday night. We’ll take the win, the confidence boost and the rest of the positives that came out of it with no complaints — thank you very much.
For one thing, Fabio Borini made a case for a spot in the match-day squad this weekend. Swansea City has been struggling as a late, but the Italian put in what may have been his best performance yet in a Liverpool shirt with only bad luck, and good positioning from Tremmel, keeping the 23-year old from opening the scoring. Still, there was little surprise when the visitors took the opportunity to take the lead.
Even with the vast experience of Kolo Toure introduced to the back-line, silly mistakes and bad decisions continue to pile up with Swansea left-back Neil Taylor more than a bit chuffed with himself when his lofted ball into the penalty area was swept home with an inch perfect volley by Emnes.
If it wasn’t such a common occurrence for the Reds to give up a goal of this nature, I’d say that the lead was unwarranted and even a bit harsh on the hosts, but it wasn’t. I’ll venture a guess that I wasn’t the only one who was starting to accept the fact that we were out of the by the time Rodgers introduced Adam Lallana and then Balotelli less than 10-minutes later, and I’ll venture another guess that I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t all that surprised when the later levelled the score.
It was coming eventually; we’ve watched over the last couple of weeks as the Italian has started to find his feet in this Liverpool side, and when he lost his marker to get on the end of Borini’s peach of a cross, there was no wild eyed, chest thumping celebration from the 24-year old, but you could almost see the weight lift off his shoulders as his trademark smile crept across this face.
In a matter of minutes, Rodgers went from staring down the barrel of another goalless outing at Anfield and elimination from what’s probably their best shot at silverware this year to progression in the cup and another one of his new players breaking their duck. Jacks defender Federico Fernandez’s two footed lunge on Coutinho earned the Argentine a straight red card with no hesitation from the referee, and from the resulting free-kick, Lovren headed home unopposed after Tremmel got caught flapping at the Brazilian’s dangerous ball.
Where Balotelli’s lack of a celebration was telling in itself, the Croatian’s unhinged joy saw that same weight that was on the striker’s shoulders leaves those of the defender as well. While there’s little doubt that neither will have turned the proverbial corner on the back of their respective goals, I return to my previous point about this being the League Cup on a Tuesday night. Finding the back of the net has never hurt anyone’s confidence, and since we’re sorely lacking in that at the moment, we’ll take it where ever we can find it.
On to the next round…