Expectation got to Liverpool yet they got the job done. The nerves frayed against Swansea City, defensive composure was given the day off and the over-riding reaction to the final whistle was relief, but this was another box ticked by Brendan Rodgers's team on the list of Premier League title credentials. A repeat, however, would not be advised.
Two goals apiece from Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson kept Liverpool in the title frame after Garry Monk's assured Swansea side threatened to puncture the optimism around Anfield. The need to respond to wins for Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal 24 hours earlier clearly affected the team in fourth, and Rodgers's appeals for a reality check on title talk sounded justified as the visitors recovered from two goals down and spread panic throughout the Liverpool backline. But, not for the first time, the home side's firepower and spirit proved overwhelming.
"We didn't defend anywhere near well enough but once again the offensive side of our game was very good," the Liverpool manager said. "Up until now we have got away with it [poor defending]. It is not about coaching, the way we concede goals. The way we concede isn't structural, it is down to mistakes and decision-making.
"But I'd rather focus on the other side. We have been spoilt here at Anfield. We have won by one goal when usually people are going away happy after a win by three or four, but this was always going to be a more difficult game than it would have been three weeks ago. That's because of what Garry has done with Swansea. They are an excellent side, so I take great pride in our character, the quality of our goals and our determination to get the job done."
Monk's men were utterly dejected on the final whistle after a performance that merited reward but brought only despair. Liverpool's reaction was also telling as their players, management and supporters breathed a collective sigh. Anfield, as Rodgers noted, has grown accustomed to Liverpool blitzing opponents before half-time or relying on brilliance in attack to cover shortcomings in their defence. There was an element of both as Swansea's adventure and their own quality up front produced an open, hugely entertaining contest.
An early Liverpool onslaught is also a regular feature at Anfield and although opponents know the test is coming, few survive. Swansea were behind inside three minutes thanks to a fine pass from Raheem Sterling after Angel Rangel over-ran the ball deep inside the Liverpool half. There appeared little on but Sterling further enhanced his prospects of an England recall by sweeping a glorious ball behind Ashley Williams and Sturridge rounded the goalkeeper Michel Vorm to convert. In doing so, Sturridge became only the second player in Premier League history to score in eight successive games, Ruud van Nistelrooy being the other.
Unlike Arsenal and Everton, Swansea responded impressively and were the more composed, enterprising team for the next 18 minutes. Then Liverpool scored again. The goals may have dried up for Luis Suárez recently but his contribution to the team's attack has remained constant. An instinctive cross-field pass released Sturridge down the right and the striker cut inside to find Henderson, who stroked a measured finish into the top corner from the edge of the area.
Liverpool looked home and hosed but their suspect defence and Swansea's refusal to wilt destroyed that script. The visitors were deservedly level with two goals in three minutes. Jonjo Shelvey, impressive on his Anfield return before a tight hamstring prompted his withdrawal, started the comeback with his own, improved take on the Henderson goal. Taking Nathan Dyer's square pass first time, the former Liverpool midfielder swept the ball in off the bar and bizarrely apologised to the Liverpool fans who sportingly applauded the goal.
Moments later Shelvey was clipped by Martin Skrtel and, from Jonathan de Guzman's free-kick, Wilfried Bony headed in his first Premier League goal on English soil via a deflection off Liverpool's Slovakian defender. Bony and Dyer had decent chances for a third before the interval but Liverpool edged ahead again as Suárez and Sturridge performed another rescue act. Jon Flanagan and Sterling combined to release Suárez, who floated an inch-perfect cross from the left for Sturridge to head beyond Vorm for a his 18th goal in 19 Premier League appearances.
"I wasn't happy with the first half," said Monk, who added that he wants Michu to stay with Swansea despite reported interest from Anzhi Makhachkala. "We were a bit too slow and gave them too much space. But once we sorted that out we were back to ourselves in the second half. The crowd were getting edgy and at 3–3 I thought we could do something but we left ourselves too open for their fourth goal."
Anxiety increased in the Liverpool display and Swansea levelled moments after the restart when Skrtel, who has escaped with more obvious grappling inside his area this season, was penalised for pulling Bony to the floor as they awaited a Dyer cross. The Ivory Coast forward picked himself up to beat Simon Mignolet from the spot. Despite Skrtel's carelessness it was his defensive partner, Daniel Agger, who was replaced by Kolo Touré, with Rodgers worried about the Dane's physical struggle against Bony.
Chances continued to arrive at both ends and Suárez was denied a penalty claim after Liverpool had refused to return the ball to Swansea following injury to a visiting player. "I don't know why we didn't give the ball back," said Rodgers. "It wasn't a penalty because we should have given it back." Tension finally eased when Henderson grabbed his second goal. Steven Gerrard found Suárez and though Williams blocked the Uruguayan's shot, the ball fell for the Liverpool midfielder to beat Vorm at the second attempt. Job done, just.
Man of the match Jordan Henderson (Liverpool)