Liverpool 5 Swansea City 0
Displeasure quickly turned to satisfaction for Brendan Rodgers as Liverpool romped to an easy victory over his former club Swansea City at Anfield, one week before the Welsh side face Bradford City in the Capital One Cup final.
Rodgers had voiced his frustration before the game after Premier League officials brought forward the fixture, originally scheduled for next weekend, just 60 hours after his shattered players had arrived back from Thursday’s 2-0 Europa League defeat to Zenit St Petersburg in Russia.
What Rodgers did not count on, however, was that Swansea’s fringe players would roll over quite so easily as Michael Laudrup opted to rest his influential stars ahead of their big Wembley date next Sunday.
After too many recent disappointments, this game was as important to Liverpool’s campaign as next weekend is to Swansea’s.
Although goals by Steven Gerrard (penalty), Philippe Coutinho, Jose Enrique, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge (penalty) will not compensate for what has been a deeply frustrating stop-start campaign, it certainly helped lift the atmosphere at Anfield.
Coutinho, the £8.5m signing from Inter Milan, sparkled in his first league start, the 20-year-old Brazilian midfielder capping a silky performance with a well-taken goal.
Yet it was Sturridge, another January signing, who really caught the eye. Badly missed during the home defeat to West Bromwich Albion six days earlier, the 23-year-old took his tally to five goals in seven outings since joining from Chelsea.
"It’s been a bit of a bumpy road after the results against West Brom and Zenit," said Rodgers, "but we’re not getting carried away with this. I liken us to a marathon runner getting ready to make his move in the pack and then goes and trips up. We have a tendency to trip ourselves up."
The first half followed a familiar pattern to the previous home game with West Brom, Liverpool creating a wave of chances. This time, however, they succeeded in finding the back of the net, albeit in controversial circumstances.
Gerrard had missed from the spot in the defeat to West Brom six days earlier when the game was goalless. Yesterday, the Reds skipper took his Premier League goal tally for the season to seven afterbeating Michel Vorm in front of the Kop in the 34th minute.
The penalty had been awarded after Suarez had been adjudged to have been brought down by Kemy Agustien following Gerrard’s corner. Referee Howard Webb thought long and hard before pointing to the spot, his decision provoking a furious response from the visiting players.
Yet Swansea were both disjointed and distracted.
Laudrup’s side have rightly earned plaudits for their attractive free-flowing style this season but his decision to rest a number of key players ahead of next Sunday’s League Cup final — 15-goal Michu was among those who started on the substitutes’ bench — was a factor in their downfall on Merseyside.
But take nothing away from Liverpool as they finally recorded a victory over a team in the current top half of the table.
Gerrard’s goal opened the floodgates. Sturridge was denied by Kyle Bartley’s headed clearance off the line before Coutinho made it 2-0 as fans were still returning to their seats after half time, Liverpool’s new No 10 weaving past two defenders before beating Vorm with a composed finish.
Rodgers, for one, liked what the new recruit brought to the game.
"I’ve got high hopes for him," said the Liverpool manager. "He’s the type of player that we are trying to bring in here — a technician who has a strong character and good mentality."
Coutinho went close to making it 3-0 with a clever flick before full-back Enrique did find the net in the 50th minute after a sublime move involving Suarez and Sturridge.
Six minutes later it was 4-0, Suarez jinking past Bartley and Garry Monk before picking his spot.
It went from bad to worse for the Swans, substitute Wayne Routledge handling inside his area to allow Sturridge to make it 5-0 from the spot.
It was far too easy for Liverpool, who did pay a price for victory after losing substitute Fabio Borini to a suspected dislocated shoulder which is likely to keep him out for the rest of the season.
"It wasn’t good enough and we could easily have lost 7-0 or 8-0 if it wasn’t for Michel Vorm," said Laudrup.
"Some of the players were already thinking about the game next week."
LIVERPOOL (4-2-3-1): Reina 7; Johnson 7, Agger 7, Carragher 7, Enrique 7; Lucas 7 (Allen 72, 5), Gerrard 7; Downing 7, Coutinho 7 (Henderson 69, 5), Sturridge 8; Suarez 7 (Borini 78, 4).
SWANSEA (4-4-2): Vorm 6; Tiendalli 4, Bartley 5, Monk 4, Davies 4; Britton 4, Agustien 3, De Guzman 4, Hernandez 4 (Dyer 76, 3); Lamah 4 (Routledge 64, 3), Shechter 4 (Rangel 82, 3).
Referee: Howard Webb 6.