Read a full match report of the Premier League game between Swansea City and Liverpool at the Liberty Stadium on Monday Sept 16, 2013.
Jonjo Shelvey’s face adorned the cover of the programme, his name was on everyone’s lips and his head was all over the place for a while. Swansea City’s former Liverpool midfielder had one of those eventful evenings at the Liberty Stadium that end up in “What Happened Next?” quizzes.
He started and finished the game well, scoring the first after 85 seconds and then supplying Michu’s equaliser after 64 minutes, making Michael Laudrup’s decision to spend £5m on him look a good piece of business. It was some of his contributions inbetween, particularly two errant passes that gifted goals for Daniel Sturridge and Victor Moses, that made Brendan Rodgers’ decision to sell him look a great bit of business.
Shelvey never hid, even when a cameraman man-marked him towards the tunnel at the break with Swansea trailing 2-1. The England international looked crestfallen, feeling humiliated against the club he left in the summer, his ability questioned. Some intelligent man-management by Laudrup settled Shelvey, the manager telling him simply that there was another 45 minutes, another chance to turn things round. Shelvey responded, helping Swansea to a point, although he could have been dismissed with Lucas following a contretemps midway through the half.
Shelvey was man of the match in terms of the story-line. Others deserve the plaudits. For Swansea, Ashley Williams and Chico Flores impressed at the back. Angel Rangel and Ben Davies raided upfield constantly. Michu moved between the lines with his usual fluid menace, at times linking up well with Wilfried Bony.
For Liverpool, Philippe Coutinho set the tempo for an hour until being baulked by Williams, immediately depriving the visitors of many of their good ideas and much of their momentum. The Brazilian left the field in pain and will have a scan to assess the extent of damage to his shoulder.
Any absence would be a substantial blow for Liverpool. Coutinho’s productive understanding with Sturridge has been one of the features of Liverpool’s fine start to the season. Moses shone on his debut, causing Rangel and Nathan Dyer problems down the left.
Martin Skrtel again demonstrated his worth with a couple of vital interceptions, including one on Bony that saved a certain goal. Alongside Skrtel, Mamadou Sakho, the £18m recruit from Paris St-Germain, had some nervous moments on his debut but his raw potential is obvious and one dispossession of Michu late on indicated his talent.
The France international, at one point showing quick feet to steer the ball towards Steven Gerrard, brings the ball out from the back, in keeping with Rodgers’ ethos.
Although Liverpool dropped points for the first time this season, leaving Leyton Orient of League One the only team in the four divisions with an unblemished record, Rodgers’ side lead the Premier League from Arsenal and Spurs. There are concerns. Iago Aspas still looks slightly bemused by the pace and physicality of the English game while Liverpool tired badly towards the end.
They hardly started vibrantly either. Shelvey was quickest out of the blocks, looking like a man with a point to prove. He started nine games in the Premier League for Liverpool last season and a similar number in assorted cups but always knew the size of the obstacle blocking his way to regular football in the shape of Gerrard.
So he moved on in search of regular football, swapping the city of the Beatles for the land of the Mumbles. Within two minutes, he scored against his old side. On miskicking 25 yards out, Shelvey was still sharpest to the loose ball, brushing past Sakho easily. Skrtel slid in but Shelvey turned and stroked the ball left-footed past Simon Mignolet.
Shelvey raised an arm as he was surrounded by his jubilant team-mates but he did not milk the celebrations. Maybe he was thinking respectfully of his old colleagues. Maybe he was thinking of them too much because he was soon passing to them.
Two minutes later, Shelvey flicked the ball with the outside of his boot towards Michel Vorm. Forgive us our back-passes. Shelvey had failed to spot Sturridge lurking. He should have been more aware. Sturridge has just received his award for Player of the Month for August.
He had been in prolific form. His absence with a thigh injury had been bemoaned by the England manager, Roy Hodgson. He seized on Shelvey’s aberration and calmly placed the ball past Vorm.
The game continued to sway breathlessly. Inspired by Coutinho, Liverpool’s tempo was good, their passing crisp and their threat persistent. Moses wriggled in from the touchline, beating Rangel and Dyer before dinking in a cross perfectly measured for Sturridge but Vorm saved well.
Michu briefly vented his frustration, shouting at his team-mates to raise their game. It seemed to work. Swansea attacked quickly. The tall Sakho leapt up to head clear, denying Bony a free run at goal. Michu and Bony then combined, forcing Mignolet into a good save.
Then Shelvey suffered his second mistake, presenting possession to Moses, who sped down the inside-left channel before firing the ball low past Vorm. Swansea almost equalised before the break but Mignolet pushed out Dyer’s shot and Skrtel put in that sliding tackle to prevent Bony turning in the loose ball.
The Opta stats wizards reported that this was the first Premier League game this strange season to see more than two goals before the interval. After the break, all eyes were on Shelvey to see how he would react. He was booked with Lucas for some pushing.
Shelvey’s next involvement was far more positive, cleverly flicking a header into the path of Michu who scored his first Premier League goal of the season with a confident strike past Mignolet. Shelvey ran to the Swansea fans, his face showing his relief.
Shelvey then almost gave Swansea the lead with a low shot that Mignolet smothered.
Rodgers tried to regain the initiative. Raheem Sterling came on for Moses, who departed to warm applause from the Liverpool fans.
Swansea were playing the ball around with gusto. Rangel was constantly pushing on, turning away from Sterling and winning a free-kick 25 yards out.
Mignolet has made some impressive saves already in his short Liverpool career and this was particularly special, the keeper throwing himself to his left to palm Jonathan de Guzman’s free-kick away.