By Séamus Leonard
Three victories. Three Daniel Sturridge winners. Three clean sheets. Nine points. Not even the most fanatical Liverpool supporter – a fan base often ridiculed for its blind optimism – would have predicted a 100 percent record for the Reds after three English Premier League games, especially as the last encounter was against arch rivals Manchester United.
There were severe defensive doubts ahead of the clash with the Red Devils as Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers was forced to rely on Martin Skrtel at center back after Kolo Toure failed to recover from a groin injury. There was no need to fret as Skrtel, alongside Daniel Agger, turned in a tremendous performance to keep United at bay.
And with Liverpool bringing in Mamadou Sakho and Tiago Ilori before the transfer window closed, the Reds have gone from being tight on numbers at the back to having an embarrassment of riches at their disposal. Those riches will not include Glen Johnson for the next four league games, however, as the England right-back recovers from a high ankle sprain. The injury comes at an inopportune time for the former West Ham United man, as he was arguably enjoying his best spell in a Liverpool jersey since signing from Portsmouth in 2009. Johnson’s time on the sidelines is likely to offer Andre Wisdom a chance to show he is capable of challenging for a first team place. The 20-year-old was expected to go out on loan to get some much-needed game time, but Johnson’s bad luck means Wisdom is very much needed at Anfield at this point in time.
Sturridge, who was named the Premier League’s Player of the Month for August, did not feature in England’s two recent World Cup qualifiers as a thigh strain prevented him from being involved. Speaking at Friday’s pre-match press conference, Rodgers seemed confident the in-form striker would be fit and ready for the trip to South Wales, with the extra recovery time afforded by the Monday night scheduling likely to be a key factor.
Swansea is unlikely to be as enamored with the timing of the fixture, coming as it does just three days before it is due to face Valencia in a Europa League battle at the Mestalla. The Swans have enjoyed some notable victories in the competition already this season, but it has undoubtedly had an effect on their league form as Michael Laudrup’s charges currently lie 18th in the table, just inside the relegation zone. The Welsh side has had to deal with a tough schedule, though, with the visit of Manchester United followed by a visit to the ever-ambitious Tottenham.
Honors were relatively even between these sides last season, with a 0-0 draw at the Liberty Stadium and a 5-0 win for Liverpool at Anfield. That success served as a modicum of revenge for the Reds after they had suffered a 1-3 reverse at home in the League Cup.
Monday’s game will see Jonjo Shelvey face Liverpool for the first time since his summer move. Some feel the midfielder wasn’t given a fair crack of the whip by Rodgers last season, and the London native will no doubt be out to prove a point. Liverpool has to be wary of Swansea’s attacking threat, with Pablo Hernandez, Michu, Wayne Routledge and new £12m signing Wilfried Bony all capable of causing damage.
The visitors will give their own danger man Sturridge every chance of proving his fitness. The 24-year-old has played at less than 100 percent fitness since the start of the campaign, and there is some concern that continuing to play could result in a long-term injury, particularly given the striker’s history of physical ailments. But with Luis Suarez still suspended, Rodgers may have little option but to throw the number 15 into the breach once more. That said, the signing of Victor Moses on loan from Chelsea for the season does give Rodgers the option of playing the Nigeria international up front and holding Sturridge in reserve.
Regardless of which 11 is put out on the field, Liverpool enters game with confidence levels at a high not seen since the 08/09 season. While everyone concerned has been careful not to get carried away with the fantastic start, the longer this 100 percent record continues the higher the club can aim. While the adage goes that there are no easy games in the Premier League, some games are certainly easier than others. And with a favorable run of fixtures from now until the end of October, it is imperative that Liverpool makes the most of that advantage.
If you are in the greater Boston area, you will be able to watch the match at The Phoenix Landing with LFC Boston. If not, you can watch it on NBC Sports Network, with coverage starting at 1500 EST.
Swansea City v Liverpool
When: Monday, September 16, 1500 EST/2000 BST
Where: Liberty Stadium, Swansea
Previous Premier League match: West Brom 0-2 Swansea, Liverpool 1-0 Manchester United
League Position 2013-14: Swansea City 18th (3 points) Liverpool 3rd (9 points)
Projected Swansea Starting 11
DEF: Rangel, Williams, Chico, Davies
MID: Hernandez Shelvey, Canas, Michu, Routledge
Subs from: Tremmel, Amat, Britton, Dyer, Lamah, Monk, De Guzman, Lita, Pozuelo, Donnelly, Tiendalli, Vazquez
Projected Liverpool Starting 11
DEF: Wisdom, Skrtel, Agger, Jose Enrique
MID: Henderson, Gerrard, Lucas, Coutinho, Moses
Subs from: Jones, Kelly, Flanagan, Toure, Sakho, Llori, Luis Alberto, Allen, Ibe, Sterling, Aspas, Yesil, Morgan.
Follow Séamus Leonard on Twitter @seamusleonard