Liverpool surrendered their place at the top of the league to rivals Manchester City midweek on goal-difference, but the defending champions’ win over Everton meant Liverpool now had a game in hand.
It was Bournemouth who arrived to Anfield on Saturday, February 9, 2019. Very different from that of Liverpool, as well as Manchester City or any other Premier League club, the Cherries have been writing a remarkable story of their own in the last decade, and manager Eddie Howe has been at the heart of all of their fantastic achievements so far.
Following a spell on the sidelines, Trent Alexander-Arnold started training normally and hadn’t complained about anything prior to the start of the game, and manager Jurgen Klopp decided to put him on the bench. The situation with Jordan Henderson was the same, while Georginio Wijnaldum did better and made the starting line-up. Dejan Lovren remained absent, together with Joe Gomez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, while Xherdan Shaqiri missed out due to an abdominal strain.
Howe wasn’t able to count on striker Calum Wilson who was out with a knee problem, as well as David Brooks who had an ankle injury. Liverpool’s loanee Nathaniel Clyne was, of course, ineligible to play against his parent club, while midfielder Jefferson Lerma recovered from an ankle issue in time. Former Liverpool winger Jordon Ibe made the starting XI, and striker Dominic Solanke took a place on the bench.
There was a couple of late absentees for the Cherries too:
The manager has confirmed that Junior Stanislas misses today's game with a thigh injury, whilst Charlie Daniels is absent due to family reasons.#LIVBOU
— AFC Bournemouth (@afcbournemouth) February 9, 2019
🚨 TEAM NEWS 🚨
🔘 Lerma, Rico both start
🔘 Ibe, Fraser out wide
🔘 Solanke on bench
— AFC Bournemouth (@afcbournemouth) February 9, 2019
The First Half
As you’d expect from Howe’s team, they did not come to Anfield to just sit back and defend. It took them less than two minutes to threaten Liverpool and Alisson was called into action early on to deny Fraser.
Liverpool soon took control of the ball, and the visitors showed their resilience at the back as well. They kept their lines very close together in a 4-5-1 shape, and the Reds had to be quick in transition to be able to cause any harm for them. Yet, they weren’t, which meant a lot of work was going to be needed to find a breakthrough.
The Reds threatened seriously for the first time in the 10th minute when Fabinho’s incisive pass found Salah on the right flank. The Egyptian cut inside Rico and aimed at the far top corner from just inside the box, but the shot lacked a bit of accuracy. Mane employed Firmino well two minutes later and the Brazilian picked the ball up inside the six yards at a tight angle, but Boruc was well positioned. Salah tried again next, but his drive from 20 yards was deflected harmlessly into the arms of the Bournemouth goalkeeper.
But Liverpool were tightening the noose. The ball was being circulated around and repeatedly flung into the box, and the Cherries had to keep their heads and defend for their lives. They tried to organize a counterattack in the 16th minute through Ibe, but Robertson put in an outstanding tackle to dispossess him.
The moment did give them some boost though, and they pushed forward hard for a minute or two until they were overpowered and forced to retreat.
Liverpool struggled to create something upfront for a while at this period, but they earned a corner in the 24th minute and found their breakthrough. Milner took the corner and Bournemouth cleared it, but only as far as Keita who employed Milner again. The vice-captain swung it in once more, and this time Mane outmanoeuvred Gosling and jumped high to slam a header past Boruc.
The visitors tried to go forward immediately but they were quickly caught out as Keita sent Firmino running down the left. Firmino employed Wijnaldum in the middle and the Dutchman extended it towards Salah on the right a bit too strongly, and the Egyptian scuffed his shot. Another few minutes of complete Liverpool dominance followed during which Rico found himself booked by referee Anthony Taylor, but the score remained unchanged.
In the 32nd minute, Matip produced a sublime long pass for Firmino in behind, but it was still difficult for the Brazilian to control it and Boruc took his chance to thwart him.
Two minutes later, a Wijnaldum masterclass put a cushion between Liverpool and their opponents.
Mane, Keita and Robertson worked well to dispossess Ibe, and Robertson keenly found Wijnaldum running into the box. Ake was standing in front of him and Boruc was in position, but Wijnaldum sent an inch-perfect lob over both of them and into the net.
In the 38th minute, Adam Smith showed a lovely piece of skill to go past Robertson on the byline and enter the box, but Robertson recovered well and dispossessed him. In his frustration, Smith mowed down Keita from behind and earned a booking.
The Reds almost made it three in the last minute of the 45. Salah sent a clever diagonal for the run of Robertson who squared it across for Mane near the penalty spot, but Cook reacted well in front of the Senegalese and cleared the box. It was picked up by Salah again, and with a deft touch he set himself up for a half-volley which went towards the top corner, forcing a fine save from Boruc.
Several successive Liverpool corners were taken during the two minutes of stoppage time, but apart from a long-range effort from Wijnaldum straight into the arms of Boruc and one from Lerma at the other end going far off target, there were no further excitements.
Well @LFC are 2 up. The crisis in which they never lost a game appears to be over.
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) February 9, 2019
The Second Half
Bournemouth tried to get organized and attack after the restart, but less than three minutes in, they were further down.
Milner took a throw-in on the right near the halfway line and threw it to Mane. Mane outwitted Gosling again and gave it to Keita, whose clever pass sent Firmino running diagonally to the right, incidentally taking Ake out of position and opening space in the middle for Salah to run into. With a deft first touch, Firmino left it off for Salah who hit it low into the far corner.
Bournemouth’s game-plan seemed non-existent at this point. The Reds found it easy to win the ball and put matters under their control. In the 56th minute, they again utterly outplayed their opponents and eventually Wijnaldum’s cross found Mane unmarked at the far post, but Mane couldn’t reproduce the accuracy of the 24th-minute header and sent this one wide.
Three minutes later, Howe went for something different and replaced one former Red with another. Dominic Solanke came on instead of Ibe.
A minute after the hour-mark, King and Fraser tried to combine on the left and eventually Matip bumped into Fraser, for which the referee showed him the yellow card.
As the game progressed, Liverpool were pressing and counter-pressing better and better, increasing their possession and making it extremely hard for the Cherries to get over the halfway line.
They did, however, get a break in the 68th minute and Smith was accidentally trodden on by Robertson right before Gosling ruthlessly took out Keita. Taylor missed both incidents and eventually stopped play because of the two players lying on the ground. It was another example of poor refereeing in the Premier League.
With 18 minutes to go, Howe sent on a third striker in the form of Lys Mousset. Lerma was the player to make way, King moved to the left and Solanke to the right.
Three minutes later, Salah played a brilliant one-two with Firmino and broke through the defence, only to slam his shot from close range into the bar before Trent Alexander-Arnold stepped onto the pitch to replace Wijnaldum. Milner went into his favoured position in midfield.
Bournemouth tried to hit on the counterattack soon after as Fraser engaged Mousset who had made a clever diagonal run to the right. Mousset hit a good shot from a tight angle, but Alisson was outstanding.
Liverpool continued their dominance and in the next couple of minutes both Keita and Mane failed to take advantage of dangerous team moves, Salah made the most of a long punt by Alisson to set up Milner for a shot that got blocked, and the vice-captain had another go from long way out after a few moments but failed to hit the target.
Bournemouth gave a bit more in the last five minutes. They managed to spend some time in Liverpool’s half and swung several crosses into the box, but Matip and van Dijk dealt with every one of them. Eventually, Robertson picked the ball up and threaded it in behind for Firmino. The Brazilian ran forward and took a shot from the edge of the box – straight at Boruc.
Three minutes from time, Sadio Mane stepped off and made way for Divock Origi.
The Belgian had a chance almost straight away as Liverpool once more looked to exploit their opposition going forward in numbers, but they caught up with him and crowded him out. Next it was Trent who almost scored after Firmino set him up, but Boruc did very well to save his shot.
In the last minute of the 90, Daniel Sturridge replaced Firmino.
The Cherries didn’t give up even in the stoppage time and Solanke had a good go from long way out, just missing the target, but Klopp’s men saw the rest of the game out without any problems.
It’s been a while since we saw the Reds perform this good. Their class shone all over, from the goalkeeper to the front line with a perfectly balanced midfield in between. The trio of Fabinho, Keita and Wijnaldum worked extremely well. The two newcomers showed what they’re capable of and the Dutchman produced one of his finest games this season – and that’s saying a lot. The Cherries, a very good team that put four goals past Chelsea not 10 days earlier, were simply out of their depth.
— James Pearce (@JamesPearceEcho) February 9, 2019
Liverpool go top of the league again, if only for a short while. Manchester City play Chelsea on Sunday at the Etihad and a win would take them back to the top, but the Reds would still have a game in hand.
It’s the FA Cup next weekend, and Liverpool therefore have full 10 days to prepare for the visit of Bayern Munich on Tuesday, February 19th. As for the Premier League, it’s the big one next – Manchester United at Old Trafford five days later.
We Walk On.