Off-form Liverpool stunned as Swansea earn three vital points
SWANSEA, Wales -- Three thoughts on Swansea's 1-0 win vs. Liverpool in the Premier League.
1. Relegation-threatened Swans stun Liverpool
Having ended Manchester City's unbeaten run in their last outing, Liverpool's own flawless spell is over just a week later.
Jurgen Klopp's side suffered their first defeat in 19 games in all competitions at the hands of the most unlikely opponents: The worst team in the Premier League, judging by the table. Liverpool's first taste of defeat in exactly three months came courtesy of Alfie Mawson's first-half goal, off a set piece that Liverpool failed to clear.
Liverpool stay fourth after Tottenham failed to win on Sunday, but Klopp will hope the lethargic nature of his side's performance doesn't set in for longer than this 90 minutes. Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and, particularly, Sadio Mane were all off the pace in South Wales and, as a result, that had disastrous consequences for Liverpool.
New Swansea boss Carlos Carvalhal dubbed this encounter "David versus Goliath"; with six, Swansea had scored fewer home goals than any other Premier League side this season, while Liverpool are the team to have scored the most -- 29 -- on the road.
Unsurprisingly, Swansea adopted a defensive 5-3-2 formation, with a clear emphasis on counter-attacks and making the most of dead-ball situations. Their delivery had been dire until the breakthrough but, in the 41st minute, Mawson made the most of Virgil van Dijk's poor clearance of a corner and swept a shot beyond Loris Karius to give the hosts an unlikely lead.
Liverpool could hardly argue the scoreline, though, as they had been poor in the opening 45 minutes. With continued reservations about the defence and an in-form frontline, Liverpool's midfield is often overlooked in any analysis of this side.
The bizarre workings of football has it that Georginio Wijnaldum can play so well against the Premier League leaders one week and be so anonymous against the 20th-placed team the next time around. The Dutch international still hasn't scored a league away goal since arriving in England at the start of the 2015-16 season.
Liverpool had more about them after the break and were aided by the introduction of Adam Lallana with 25 minutes left. But with the forwards unable to find a way through Swansea's vice-like grip on three points, nobody was able to bail Liverpool out. Firmino hit the post with seconds left, before the Liberty Stadium joyously celebrated Neil Swarbrick's final whistle.
2. Van Dijk emerging as Liverpool's leader
Perhaps it is the Liverpool manager's viewpoint on captaincy that takes away the strangeness of seeing a Liverpool player with just months left of his contract wear the armband.
Indeed, Klopp's strategy is to hand it to the long-serving player in the starting XI and so, with Jordan Henderson absent and James Milner on the bench, the responsibility fell to Emre Can. But, as is Klopp's way, Can was captain by name only; Van Dijk is already proving to be the leader of this Liverpool team and, during lulls at the Liberty Stadium, his verbal instructions could easily be heard.
His poor header for Swansea's goal will be given greater prominence because of his price tag, but Liverpool and Klopp appear to have been spot-on in biding their time for the centre-half and, overall, Van Dijk is currently strutting around and playing like a £75 million defender.
His comfort with the ball is helpful in games with this set-up. In a barren first half, Van Dijk beautifully lofted a pass over the Swansea defence and into Salah's path, only for the in-form Egyptian forward to blaze over.
3. Swansea rewarded for showing fight
Not even a month has passed since Liverpool battered a broken Swansea 5-0 at Anfield. On that occasion, caretaker boss Leon Britton lamented a lack of fight from his players in the midst of a thrashing. Carvalhal was in the Anfield directors' box that day and will have noted how the Swans appeared to give up at two goals down.
Although his side still lacks quality in a number of areas, the surprise managerial appointee has to instilled spirit and spine into the relegation-threatened side. It was evidenced in a dramatic recent win at Watford and again vs. Newcastle last weekend when Swansea earned a hard-fought draw.
The growing belief around the club has had a knock-on effect to the crowd, who finally have hope that survival is a realistic possibility.
Animated on the touchline, just like his counterpart Klopp on Monday, Carvalhal has inspired what appeared to be a doomed team with a mixture of discipline, harsh words and even wrestling, as his players have reported.
It's all good preparation as Swansea fight to maintain their top-flight status.
Glenn is ESPN FC's Liverpool correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter: @GlennPrice94.