Liverpool was five minutes away from despair when a trio of unlikely heroes lifted it into a state euphoria.
At very least, Liverpool’s 2-1 win over Swansea City on Tuesday in the fourth round of the Capital One Cup eased some of the tension and pressure in the atmosphere at Anfield. On paper, the victory books Liverpool’s passage to the quarterfinal of a competition that isn’t one of its main priorities in 2014-15. But emotion governs a lot of what happens in soccer, and Tuesday’s result means more than what you see on paper.
Liverpool was trailing 1-0 in the 86th minute when much-maligned striker Mario Balotelli scored the game-tying goal. Balotelli, who had entered the game just seven minutes earlier, outraced a defender and side-footed Fabio Borini’s (himself an outcast of sorts) inch-perfect cross past goalkeeper Gerhard Tremmel. Balotelli’s goal — his first since Sept. 16 — ended a 445-minute goal drought, which prompted many to question his future at the club. It could be the start of a new chapter in Balotelli’s Liverpool career.
Another immediate effect of Balotelli’s quality strike was to put all the momentum onto Liverpool’s side for the closing stages of the game, which seemed destined for extra time when Philippe Coutinho lined up a free kick in the fifth minute of second-half stoppage time.
Coutinho floated a free kick toward the far post. Tremmel left his goal line to punch it away but he completely missed it, allowing Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren to head the ball into the open goal. Anfield erupted in joy, as Lovren celebrated the game-winner along with his teammates.
Balotelli’s goal demonstrated Liverpool’s latent attacking quality. Lovren’s header showed the benefits of punishing opponents for their mistakes — something Liverpool rarely has done in 2014-15. The result and the thrilling manner of victory has the potential to kick Liverpool into a higher gear going into the winter months.
However, Liverpool’s performance against Swansea City left something to be desired. The Reds controlled almost all of the first half, often pinning Swansea deep in its own third of the field dominant. But Liverpool’s final pass or shot desperately lacked the quality to convert its advantage in play into a lead on the scoreboard.
Swansea City took a more aggressive approach in the second half and went ahead in the 65th minute. After a pair of deflections, Neil Taylor opportunistically surged forward and passed to a teammate who was waiting inside Liverpool’s penalty area. Dutch forward Marvin Emnes volleyed the visitors ahead, temporarily sucker-punching the air out of the home team’s stomach.
Liverpool rebounded, and fortune smiled on the Reds late in the game. Borini was positive, industrious and combative throughout. Coutinho was influential and inventive. Their appearances on the score-sheet (as assist providers) are just rewards for their displays, as is the fact that both played the entire game.
Balotelli and Lovren have been heavily criticized recently but they became heroes on a memorable night at Anfield. Their change in status from questionable summer signings to objects of adoration only might last a few days. But it also could extend into the coming weeks and months, which would improve their own fortunes and those of Liverpool itself.
Photo by Peter Byrne/The Associated Press/Press Association