Five conclusions from Liverpool’s 2-2 draw with Swansea at the Liberty Stadium.
1. Jonjo Shelvey is made of stern stuff
Jonjo Shelvey’s departure from Anfield this summer divided opinion amongst Liverpool fans, with some disappointed at the sale of a promising 21-year-old and others feeling the midfielder would never be good enough to wear the famous red shirt consistently.
On a dramatic night for the England under-21 international, Shelvey provided compelling evidence for both parties, notching a goal and an assist for his new side Swansea but gifting his former employers both their goals with two horrendous first half errors.
But regardless of your views on Shelvey’s quality, there is no doubt the youngster has guts. The former Charlton midfielder looked a broken man after his second mistake had allowed Victor Moses to score, and he visibly shied away from the ball as the first half drew to a close.
A lesser character might have slunk off at the interval but Shelvey’s second half performance was a masterclass in redemption, as he set up Michu for the equaliser with a perfectly cushioned header and demanded the ball, including set piece duties, at every opportunity. Liverpool class or not, the boy will go far with that mentality.
2. The jury is still out on the Michu-Bony partnership
Swansea boss Michael Laudrup proved king of the transfer market last summer, landing Spanish sensation Michu for a bargain £2m. The Dane earned the right to spend more lavishly this year and opted to splash a club record £12m on Ivorian forward Wilfried Bony. The Ivorian boasts valuable Europa League experience but didn’t look suited to Swansea’s style of play.
After a brilliant brace on his debut against Malmo in the Europa League and a consolation goal from the bench in the opening day league defeat to Man United, Bony has struggled to impress and his partnership with Michu is yet to bare fruit.
The duo were too close together against Liverpool and most of Bony’s touches failed to find his striker partner. It was no coincidence that the hosts looked more fluid once Bony departed on the hour, although they also missed his presence in the box.
3. Mamadou Sakho will take time to adapt
Brendan Rodgers boldly claimed that Liverpool’s centre back pairing could remain constant for ten years after the arrivals of Mamadou Sakho and Thiago Ilori late in the transfer window but any thoughts of easing the Frenchman in gently were ended by an injury to Daniel Agger.
In the Dane’s absence, powerhouse Sakho was handed his first start for Liverpool and endured an uncomfortable night at the Liberty Stadium. The 23-year-old was guilty of a two errors ahead of Jonjo Shelvey’s opener and was dragged out of position for Swansea’s equaliser. The hosts intricate passing and quick movement frequently left the former PSG man struggling and it may take a few months at least for Sakho to adapt to the pace of the English game.
But the France international proved his natural quality with a fine late tackle on Michu as the Spaniard bore down on goal, suggesting there is raw potential for Brendan Rodgers and his coaching staff to work on.
4. Simon Mignolet is Liverpool’s best signing of the summer
While Liverpool’s summer transfer business undoubtedly strengthened the quality of the squad, arguably none of the new outfield additions improved Brendan Rodgers’ first eleven. Would Moses, Aspas or Alberto start ahead of Coutinho, Sturridge and Suarez? Should Sissoko displace Enrique, or Sakho oust Skrtel? Time will tell but none of the arrivals appear to be instant starters…bar one.
With Pepe Reina departed, Liverpool have new undisputed number one in Simon Mignolet and the Belgian looks as though he could prove the Reds’ most important new addition.
Mignolet commanded his area superbly, confidently meeting the diagonal balls aimed at Swansea’s front two Michu and Wilfried Bony. The 25-year-old also displayed his excellent reflexes and handling on a number of occasions as Swansea pressed in the second half, most notably to claw away Jonathan De Guzman’s dipping free kick.
5. Liverpool are not title contenders…yet
Liverpool should be proud of their position at the summit of the Premier League but the Reds’ performance at the Liberty Stadium suggested they are not ready to challenge for the title this season. After dominating Swansea in the first half, Brendan Rodgers’ must have been relieved with a point as his side withstood a final twenty minutes of domination from the home side.
In Daniel Sturridge, Philipe Coutinho and Luis Suarez, Liverpool boast one of the most dynamic front threes in the Premier League, if not Europe, but a resilient finish against good but not top class opposition suggests a push for the top four rather than an assault on the title is a more realistic aim this term. As Steven Gerrard and Lucas tired, Swansea overran and out-passed the visitors, cutting off service to Liverpool’s front three.
Rodgers’ team looked out of ideas and out of puff as the clocked ticked towards ninety minutes but last season’s Liverpool might have crumbled under the pressure; progress is being made but the Reds aren’t Championship quality yet.