Swansea City 0 Liverpool 0
MICHAEL Laudrup is eyeing a landmark in midweek after his Swansea City side took another step away from the shadow of last season.
The mastermind of Swansea’s brilliant debut Premier League campaign returned to the Liberty Stadium yesterday.
And just like at Anfield in the Capital One Cup last month, Brendan Rodgers’s Liverpool team did not win.
Victors on Merseyside four weeks ago, Swansea had to be content with a goalless draw this time around.
But even a stalemate represents a triumph for Laudrup given the sharp contrast in resources between his club and the one Rodgers left to join.
Liverpool are very definitely a work in progress under Swansea’s former boss. But it should not be forgotten that the squad at his disposal is packed with players who did not come cheap.
Take Joe Cole, for example. He was signed on a Bosman, admittedly, but he takes home £100,000 a week, a sum which would probably be enough to cover the top four earners at the Liberty.
Luis Suarez, Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Glenn Johnson were all megamoney signings.
And then there is Joe Allen, who was plucked away for a cool £15 million in the summer having been arguably Swansea’s best performer last season.
By rights, Swansea should not be competing with Liverpool. Yet in four meetings in the past 12 months, they have not once been beaten.
Rodgers was on the Welsh side of the divide for the first two of those encounters, but it is Laudrup who is in charge at the Liberty now.
And the latest positive result was a big one for the Dane. Not only was he not humbled by his predecessor, but his Swansea team kept their momentum going.
They are unbeaten in five games and have lost only one of the last eight — by a solitary goal to the champions, Manchester City, in their own backyard.
Not surprisingly, therefore, the Premier League table makes pretty good reading.
Swansea are a lofty ninth in the top flight and, having played only 13 of their 38 games, have a very healthy 17 points on the board.
“If we could win on Wednesday against West Brom,” Laudrup pointed out, “we will have 20 points already.
“That would be fantastic.”
The Baggies are the unlikely success story of the season so far, and Laudrup’s team will have to dig out a high-class performance if they are to reach Laudrup’s landmark in two days’ time.
But Swansea have done enough in their recent displays to suggest that they have the ability to humble anyone in the top division, particularly when playing on their own patch.
“I would never say a draw here is two points dropped because I know how hard it is to come and play Swansea,” Rodgers said.
The Northern Irishman was pleased enough with a point, even if Liverpool had a goal disallowed for the tightest offside call SA1 will see all season.
This cannot have been an easy day for Rodgers, but he got a decent reception from the fans who once idolised him and he a got a decent display from his team.
Liverpool are now unbeaten in eight league fixtures, so both Rodgers’s old club and his new one seem to be heading in the right direction.
“We can’t get better every time,” Laudrup suggested, “because otherwise we will end up hitting the roof.
“But we have only lost one of the last seven or eight games and that’s important.
“We had a great week, then we went to Southampton and didn’t play so well in the second half but we still got a point.
“We had a great win last week against Newcastle and now a good game against Liverpool.
“It’s important to maintain a certain level every week, to get something even when we are not playing at our very best, because every time we extend the positive series of results, we get a little bit more confidence.”
The West Brom dressing room must be bouncing — or should that be boinging — right now, but Swansea should not be short of belief come kick-off on Wednesday.
There were many who feared the worst after Rodgers departed, many who were quick to insist that the Championship beckoned after an unwanted change of manager.
And while there are still many points to be gathered before Swansea can begin planning for a third season among the elite, things are going nicely just now for the Laudrup regime.
Rodgers’s team has very quickly become Laudrup’s line-up, and the return of points so far has been as good as anyone could have hoped for.
“This is another one gained,” reckoned Laudrup, “and we deserved it.”
Rodgers could not really argue. This was an intriguing contest, a battle between two sides who wanted to dominate with the ball.
Both did so at times, and both created enough opportunities to win the game. That neither did was about right in a game which entertained even if there were no goals.
Swansea pressed first when Wayne Routledge’s drive was beaten away by Pepe Reina, Liverpool responded as Jose Enrique’s chested effort went wide.
Johnson caused problems from full-back, and Gerhard Tremmel made a big save to deny the England man before the outstanding Pablo Hernandez shot just wide of the upright at the other end of the field.
Next Angel Rangel robbed Steven Gerrard, but Jonathan de Guzman sliced his effort off target when a couple of team-mates were better placed.
Liverpool came again, Suarez seeing his drive blocked before Raheem Sterling’s fabulous volley smashed the raindrops off the bar.
Enrique thought he had opened the scoring a minute later when he tapped in Suarez’s centre, but a questionable offside flag saved Swansea and the home side threatened again when Hernandez’s piledriver flew just too high.
The pattern continued after the break, with both sides probing but failing to find the killer touch.
Tremmel repelled Suarez’s drive, Michu headed straight at Reina.
Williams’s header was hacked clear by Allen and then Tremmel gathered another Suarez shot when Liverpool should have done better on the counter-attack.
Swansea came again, Ki Sung-Yueng firing over and Hernandez forcing a sprawling save from Reina.
The last word almost went to Reds substitute Jonjo Shelvey, but Tremmel saved again and the points were shared.
Rodgers was satisfied, and so was the man who took the baton from his hands last summer.
And so to West Brom, and the chance, already, to get halfway to 40 points.