Comfortable win over Swansea eases Liverpool's congested festive period
LIVERPOOL, England -- Three quick thoughts from Anfield as Liverpool beat Swansea City 5-0 in the Premier League on Tuesday.
1. Liverpool ease past Swans
Jurgen Klopp has been quick to point out the flaws in the Premier League scheduling Liverpool's fixtures over the festive period. The Reds boss was bemused that, in addition to the normal workload, Liverpool's games with Leicester City and Burnley had just 48 hours in between them. As a result, the number of games in a short space of time around Christmas has clearly been playing on Klopp's mind for some time, with rotation a staple of his team selection recently.
What he couldn't have foreseen was the ease with which his Liverpool side would brush aside rock-bottom Swansea City, with a third of this match a free pass for Klopp to preserve the fitness of his stars.
After 66 minutes, this game was done as two goals from Roberto Firmino and one each from Philippe Coutinho, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain mean it didn't take much from Liverpool to extend their unbeaten run to 14 games.
Swansea were evidently trying to follow the much-used opponent's blueprint of playing Liverpool at home, with their 4-5-1 formation intended to cause as much frustration as possible. However, their stubbornness only stood up for six minutes. The low block's biggest Achilles' heel is moments of brilliance and Coutinho delivered that on his 200th appearance for the club, curling an effort from outside the penalty area into the far corner.
The early goal forced the Swans out of their shell and that meant Liverpool could enjoy the space the visitors reluctantly vacated.
Liverpool's home defensive record is the best in the Premier League, having just conceded three in front of their own fans this season. But you wouldn't have known that at times on Tuesday, with winces and gasps from the crowd every time Swansea ventured remotely close to Liverpool's goal. When Firmino squandered an excellent chance moments before the break, the conversations in the concourse at half-time will have been about whether this was another case of Liverpool ruing missed opportunities.
But Firmino made up for his error and relieved nerves inside Anfield seven minutes into the second half. In all-too-simplistic fashion, Coutinho lofted a free kick into the box and his Brazilian compatriot finished from close range to put Liverpool into a comfortable two-goal lead before Alexander-Arnold's thump made it 3-0.
When Firmino tapped in to make 4-0, Klopp shut up shop for the day, taking off Firmino and Mohamed Salah. The remaining 23 minutes were an exercise of managing fitness and taking no risks whatsoever ahead of the Leicester-Burnley double-header. With the game concluding like an exhibition match, Oxlade-Chamberlain took advantage and made it 5-0. The result was a win for Klopp in more ways than one.
2. Liverpool grow out of reliance on Mane
In his programme notes, the Liverpool manager reinforced the message that 2017 has been a positive year for his Liverpool. For the most part, he's right, and that improvement is notable in that a struggling Swansea beat Liverpool at the start of the year when Sadio Mane was away for the Africa Cup of Nations. Nearly 12 months on, Mane wasn't needed this time around.
As Liverpool close out the calendar year, they are no longer in a position where it's Mane or bust. In Liverpool's past six games, the Senegalese forward has been an unused substitute for half of them. The less reliance now placed on Mane is an aftershock from Salah's brilliant start to life at Liverpool.
Indeed, Mane has looked off the pace recently in the games he has featured in, but his attacking threat still draws plenty of attention from opposing managers and defenders. Klopp, though, can do without his No. 19 for the time being while Salah continues to flourish, Firmino toils and Coutinho dazzles.
In the wider context, January may see Liverpool add to their options up top, too. The Reds made a late move for Monaco's Thomas Lemar in the summer transfer window, which signalled that Klopp's thinking is perhaps quite simply that one cannot have enough match-winners. The thought of Liverpool's current options and perhaps even more in the future looks like an extremely exciting proposition.
3. Swans losing pace in relegation race
Swansea are being cut adrift from the rest of the pack at the foot of the table, and a trip to Liverpool was something caretaker boss Leon Britton could have done without.
The long-serving Britton hasn't been slow to pull his hat out of the running for the permanent job. Although his counterpart for the game, Klopp, enjoyed success in a similar situation at Mainz more than 15 years ago, to put Swansea's current plight on the shoulders of a first-time coach and club legend wouldn't be fair.
The vacant position doesn't have a long line of elite managers queuing up for it, and you can simply reason that with the fact the gap between Swansea and 17th-placed West Ham United is now five points. The draw against Crystal Palace prior to Christmas showed that Swansea aren't a lost cause just yet, but time is running out.
On a broader level, the Welsh club appear to have moved away from the principles that got them into the Premier League in the first place in order to maintain their top-flight status. That, in turn, has made it difficult for them to remain a Premier League side. If Swansea do go down -- and that's looking highly likely on the evidence of their recent showings -- then the blame will firmly lay at the feet of the club's hierarchy.
Glenn is ESPN FC's Liverpool correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter: @GlennPrice94.