Let’s be honest, did anyone care that much about the Plymouth Argyle replay? The Football Association have worked hard to devalue their own cup in recent years so it’s no surprise that fans have fallen out of love with it. From semi-finals at Wembley to the final being at 5.30pm and supporters not able to get home after it, the whole thing’s become a bit of a joke. We’re through to the next round but Jürgen Klopp’s team selection made clear that his thoughts were predominantly all about our next league game.
That league game is, of course, our match against Swansea City. Make no mistake, Liverpool have a chance of winning the title this year. A seven point gap looks like a lot but if we can beat Chelsea at home it’s only four points and then it’s just about consistency. The trouble is that that consistency has to come against the lesser lights of the league, not just the big boys. Swansea City are down in the relegation doldrums and are exactly the sort of team we need to beat to be in with a shot. Can we do it? And what sort of bets should you be placing?
Jürgen Klopp was toying with starting Joel Matip in the game against Plymouth in order to try and force FIFA’s hand over the defender’s situation. In the end he consulted lawyers who told him it was too much of a risk, despite the fact that the club feel that the evidence is overwhelmingly in their favour. The governing body said that they would have a meeting on Friday January the 20th in order to discuss the matter and the Liverpool hierarchy have decided to wait on the outcome of that before making a decision about whether to play him against Swansea. It’s lunacy.
The good news for the Liverpool manager is that he’s getting players back by the score. Jordan Henderson played ninety minutes against Manchester United and made crystal clear just what an essential component of this team he really is. Philippe Coutinho played half an hour at Old Trafford and double that at Home Park, with the Brazilian reminding everyone that he’s a class act. Football matches are won by elite footballers and Coutinho is definitely one of those. His return couldn’t come soon enough and hopefully we’ll have him fit for the rest of the season.
The return of those two players alone puts us in a much healthier position and allows the manager to return to his tried and tested formation, should he wish to. I see no reason why he won’t, either, given that neither Daniel Sturridge nor Divock Origi laid down a clear marker to put themselves into Klopp’s thoughts for future games. Clyne will hopefully have returned from his rib injury to relieve Trent Alexander-Arnold from his excellent understudy role, too. That’s why I expect out line-up to be Mignolet – Clyne – Klavan – Lovren – Milner – Henderson – Can – Wijnaldum – Lallana – Coutinho – Firmino.
Life’s a bit tricky for Swansea City at present. The Welsh side are rooted firmly to the bottom of the Premier League and have appointed their third manager of the season in Paul Clement. Bob Bradley’s reign at The Liberty Stadium was a short-lived one and Clement will be hoping that he can get his players performing a little better than the American. In his pre-match press conference he talked of the need to ‘not be naïve’ regarding the possibility of the club getting relegated, though, so it’s not all sunshine and lollipop in South Wales.
The Swans have already been reasonably busy in the transfer market, bringing in Martin Olsson from Norwich and Tom Carroll from Tottenham with the hope that some new blood might freshen things up a bit. They’ve also signed Luciano Narsingh from PSV Eindhoven but whereas the other two signings are likely to start at Anfield it’s unlikely that the Dutch winger will – he’s doubtful with a calf injury. One of the club’s most important signings might well turn out to be Claude Makelele. The man who was so good he had a ‘role’ named after him has come in as Clement’s assistant and will no doubt help shore things up at the back.
There are three different ways of looking at Liverpool’s form at the moment. If you want to be negative then you can say that we’ve only won game in 2017 and even that was a scruffy 1-0 win against League Two opposition. If you want to be positive then you can point out that we drew with Manchester United at Old Trafford and were the only club other than the Red Devils to make it through the festive period unbeaten. If you want to be über positive then you’d look at the fact that we haven’t lost at Anfield for over a year, winning eleven and drawing six, and feel that this one is a banker.
For Swansea things are decidedly different. Those heady days of Michael Laudrup winning them cups and Brendan Rodgers having them playing the best football in the Premier League are long gone. They’ve won two games since the start of December and they were at home against Sunderland and Crystal Palace. They conceded thirteen goals against Spurs, West Ham and Arsenal over that period, too, They’ve won just four games all season and drawn three. One of the draws was against Chelsea, though, and they nearly got something from us at The Liberty so Klopp will be warning against complacency.
If Liverpool play in the same manner as we have been doing all season and Swansea do the same then it’s difficult to see this game going any way other than a home win. They’ll defend deep, however, and we’ve been dropping plenty of points to lower league opponents. What, then, should you bet on?
Early Goal Key
If Swansea defend the way that Plymouth did then we could be in store for a long, tedious afternoon. The Welsh club might well think that the South coast team gave them something of a blueprint for how to get something from the game when they restricted the Reds to just one goal over 180 minutes. The difference, of course, is that Klopp will not be sending any youngsters out for this one unless he absolutely has to. Even then it will only be Alexander-Arnold in for Clyne and he’s coming off the back of a cracking performance at Old Trafford, so he won’t be bowed or intimidated.
If we can get an early goal, on the other hand, then I believe the Swansea floodgates will open. They conceded four at home to Arsenal last weekend, so it’s not as if Clement has immediately solved their defensive issues. My tip here is to bet on an early goal. The odds are a slightly favourable 5/2 for The First Goal To Come From 0-10, so that’s what I’m recommending you go for. If you’d like a slightly broader timescale then you go for First Goal From 0-15 @ 6/4 but I just don’t think there’s value there.
Racking Up The Goals
Let’s be honest, Liverpool haven’t exactly been firing on all cylinders in recent times. Roberto Firmino seems to have forgotten where the goal is and neither Daniel Sturridge nor Divock Origi have impressed when they’ve had chances. The return of Plhilippe Coutinho should change all of that, however, with the Brazilian constantly trying to find his countryman when he’s on the ball. It’s 5/2 for Liverpool To Win & the match to have More than 4/5 Goals. That’s not actually as long as I’d expect but is still worth considering.
If you’re on board with my assertion that the resurgent Reds could run riot then you might want to have a little look at Liverpool with a -3 Handicap, which is 3/1. Bear in mind with that one that you’d have to be pretty confident of a whitewash as you’re basically talking of us winning by four goals or more. I’m confident that we can do that but I felt it necessary to point it out!
The Welsh club are outsiders for this one, there’s no two ways about it. Swansea are 12/1 To Win, so that might be worth a couple of quid if you’re the pessimistic sort. Even a Draw is 6/1, which the bettor in me says is worth a punt. If you want to consider some other options that don’t involve the Reds running away with it then I’d go for Draw/Liverpool @ 3/1 or Swansea/Liverpool, which is about 20/1.
I do think that Liverpool are going to win and I expect it be quite comfortable. I’m expecting Coutinho to get us firing on all cylinders again so I’m going to go with a Liverpool Win & Over 4.5 Goals In The Game. I’m also going to protect myself a little bit with a recommendation of Draw/Liverpool @ 3/1, just in case I’m wrong and it’s a boring game.