ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Swansea City 3
LONDON • So it is Europa League or bust for Liverpool, as far as this football season goes.
Juergen Klopp's team all but surrendered any hope of reaching the Champions League through a top-four finish in the Premier League after they suffered a 3-1 defeat at the Liberty Stadium yesterday.
They turned in a performance that practically invited defeat by a Swansea City side who confirmed their presence in next season's top flight but showed that, at home at least, they remain a force not to be taken lightly.
Andre Ayew scored twice for the Welsh side, one goal either side of a delicious long-range strike by Jack Cork. Christian Benteke's goal for the visitors after being introduced from the bench meant nothing in terms of the result but ensured a measure of satisfaction for a player in need of it.
That, and a decent display by the goalkeeper, Danny Ward, was about all Liverpool could be content with from a match in which they finished with 10 players. Brad Smith was sent off for two bookable offences in the 76th minute.
Klopp made eight changes to the Liverpool side who lost the Europa League semi-final first leg at Villarreal on Thursday, signalling that his priority for the season is to overturn the 1-0 deficit in Thursday's second leg at Anfield.
Only Philippe Coutinho, Nathaniel Clyne and Dejan Lovren kept their places and Klopp's starting line up was the youngest - average age of 23 years and 218 days - Liverpool had ever sent out in the Premier League. With several inexperienced youngsters given rare league starts, the Reds looked decidedly green, especially in midfield, where 18-year-old debutant Pedro Chirivella and Kevin Stewart found it difficult to cope with the slick hosts.
Swansea were evidently intent on showing they have class both on and of the pitch. The club staged a well-judged tribute to the Hillsborough Justice Campaign before kick-off; and once the game got going, their team played with attractive fluency.
Cork, marshalling midfield well, served as an inventive conduit to Swansea's four dangerous attackers, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Ayew, Wayne Routledge and Jefferson Montero, whose speedy dribbling made him particularly bothersome to Nathaniel Clyne.
The right-back was one of the few senior players in Liverpool's line-up, and the rookies in the team would have benefited from more solid support from their experienced team-mates.
Philippe Countinho and Daniel Sturridge, in particular, sometimes had the air of laggards, only really coming alive when presented with the ball.
"With this line-up we can play much better football," said Klopp. "This performance was not enough. If we hadn't conceded the third one it was an open game. You can see there was not the body language you need for a comeback, though.
"We deserved to lose, they deserved to win, that's how football is on a bad day. I thought we lost a lot of easy balls, we weren't compact, there were a lot of things we could've done better. If we'd played a normal game, we could have won."
The season could yet end with smiles and a Europa League triumph for the Reds.
Otherwise Liverpool fans may find themselves in the funny position of having to hope for rivals Manchester United to win the FA Cup final if Anfield is to see European action next season.
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE