Liverpool-Swansea City Preview
Jurgen Klopp faces another test of his team's depth Sunday at the Liberty Stadium, where he is expected to use an overhauled starting XI versus Swansea City.
While most of Klopp's eight months at Anfield have been marked by the Reds enduring a spate of injuries, the German manager has stitched together various combinations of players in helping Liverpool (15-10-9) reach the semifinals of the Europa League and stay in contention for a league finish that would reward them with a return to continental play in 2016-17.
Liverpool, however, are facing a fast turnaround after a 1-0 defeat at Spanish side Villarreal in the first leg of their Europa League semifinal tie, their first loss in 12 Europa League contests. Despite the demoralising fashion of the loss - the Reds conceded in second-half stoppage time - there is confidence they can overturn the deficit in the cauldron at Anfield similar to how Liverpool rallied past Klopp's former team Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals.
''We can do better defending than that but we look for positives now,'' defender Kolo Toure said. ''There is another game, we had chances to score. We know we can do it, we just need to believe."
Toure may again be the man under the microscope as he tries to fill the void created by Mamadou Sakho following his suspension for a failed drug test. Klopp also raised eyebrows with his decision to hold out Daniel Sturridge from the first leg, perhaps with an eye on giving him a full 90-minute run - and possibly more - at Anfield next Thursday.
The Europa League has become the primary focus since winning the title provides direct entry to the Champions League group stage. Depending upon the finishes of League Cup winner Manchester City and FA Cup finalist Manchester United - even the current seventh place Liverpool occupy may be enough to return to Europa League next season.
While Klopp groused at Sunday's noon kickoff - Liverpool did not return from Spain until 4 a.m. local time Friday - he will likely overturn a good portion of his lineup to keep the squad fresh. Goalkeeper Danny Ward was one of 10 changes the manager made between the two matches against Dortmund, contributing to a 2-1 victory at Bournemouth on April 17, and the Wales international appears to be in line for his second league start.
"(His debut) was really good," Klopp told Liverpool's website. "I have had no final talk to (goalkeeping coach) John Achterberg but I could say it's maybe likely that he will play at Swansea."
Ward was recalled from Aberdeen in January after going 13-4-4 with 10 shutouts in the Scottish Premier League.
After reaching 40 points, Swansea City (10-10-15) have shown little ambition their last two matches in lopsided defeats at relegation-threatened Newcastle United and front-running Leicester City. The Swans were overrun 4-0 at King Power Stadium last Sunday, falling behind by two goals in the first half-hour and never recovering.
"To concede seven goals in the last two games has been embarrassing for us," captain Ashley Williams told the team's official website. "It's a horrible feeling when you lose two games on the bounce - particularly with the results we have had."
A victory would mathematically secure safety, and Swans manager Francesco Guidolin has been stressing the need to find those points given a challenging run-in that also features matches against West Ham United and Manchester City, two sides challenging for berths to play in Europe next season.
"We still need points," Guidolin said. "It is an important game for us and Liverpool. They are a great club and an important team in Europe. We are working hard in training because the second half against Leicester was not so good, and against Newcastle I was disappointed because our reaction wasn't good after the win over Chelsea."
Liverpool have won five on the bounce in all competitions over Swansea after James Milner's conversion from the spot provided a 1-0 victory in the reverse fixture at Anfield on Nov. 29. The Swans have one win over the Reds in nine top-flight matches (1-3-5) since being promoted to the Premier League for the 2011-12 season.