Losing their last matches in the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup, Liverpool’s imperious form has hit a bump in the road in the last few weeks. Alisson Becker picking up an injury in training wasn’t taken as a good omen.
Jurgen Klopp returned to a full-strength side after losing to Chelsea, with Alisson and Andy Robertson the only regulars missing out. The left-back was replaced by James Milner due to a minor injury. Liverpool lined up in their usual 4-3-3 formation.
Eddie Howe doesn’t have a great record against Klopp, winning only one and drawing another of their nine meetings. He set up Bournemouth in a flat 4-5-1.
Disaster seemed to be striking again for Liverpool when Bournemouth took an early lead. Ryan Fraser hit a ball in behind for Callum Wilson to chase and, although Joe Gomez was getting to it first, a shove out of the way allowed Wilson to collect it, hold it up and pass wide to Philip Billing. The lanky midfielder cut inside and feigned a shot, selling Milner the dummy to cut a pass into Jefferson Lerma down the outside, who squared the ball for an easy tap-in for Wilson at the back post.
Little changed strategically because of the goal though. Liverpool still had to break down Bournemouth, while Bournemouth were sitting back, which they had been doing before the goal anyway, but would still commit men forward when attacking. They would usually get four players in and around the box, giving Liverpool plenty of opportunities on the counter-attack when the Reds won the ball back.
Bournemouth sat back in a flat 4-5-1 shape, with Wilson hovering around Fabinho. If Georginio Wijnaldum dropped back, Billing would follow him, moving up alongside Wilson, and Cook occasionally did the same if Fabinho dropped back into the backline.
Liverpool would pass from side to side as they moved into the opposition half, yet they seemed to be targetting Bournemouth’s left when it came to actually attacking. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Roberto Firmino would keep passes open into them between the lines down this side and Liverpool would switch play to Trent Alexander-Arnold making runs in behind.
Sometimes they would play more directly though, hitting several early balls for Mohamed Salah to chase and another for Roberto Firmino that saw Steve Cook taken off injured as he pulled something trying to make up ground on the Brazilian.
There was a much quicker pace to Liverpool’s passing than there has been recently, making it easier for their attackers to get involved and look sharp. Given Bournemouth’s defenders don’t seem to communicate very well, this enabled Liverpool to exploit the gaps that would inevitably open up.
Liverpool didn’t equalise from any grand passing move though. As Firmino chased him down, Cook’s replacement Jack Simpson took a heavy touch as he looked to push forward with the ball. Sadio Mane was ready to pounce though, closing him down while curving his run to stop Simpson offloading the ball with a simple pass to Jack Stacey. Simpson tried to dribble around Mane, but the Senegalese tackled him and Liverpool immediately broke forward. Mane’s pass to Salah was poor, behind the forward, however the Egyptian retrieved it and finished anyway.
Their second was much the same. Simpson intercepted a pass but this time quickly moved the ball on to Lerma. The Colombian chipped a pass through to Lewis Cook, but the midfielder’s pass touch to Ryan Fraser, who had misread the pass and ran forward, was sloppy – easy pickings for Virgil van Dijk to claim. With Simpson out of position due to his interception and Stacey moving forward in anticipation of joining the attack, Van Dijk had no problem sliding a through ball into the path of Mane to finish.
Having secured the lead, Liverpool spent the rest of the game passing pretty aimlessly amongst their defenders. Fraser nearly punished them, yet Milner rescued Liverpool with a brilliant goal-line clearance.
That was an oddity though. Bournemouth rarely interrupted Liverpool’s passing and made no changes to do so. Former Liverpool man Dominic Solanke was introduced, but only as a winger. Bournemouth maintained their 4-5-1 rather than switching to a 4-4-2 that would have given Wilson more support in reclaiming the ball from the defenders that were so easily passing around him.
Liverpool appear back up to speed after slogging their way through most of their matches after the winter break. Bournemouth were one of the best fixtures Liverpool could have hoped for to get back to winning ways though. The Cherries’ commitment to playing out from the back and lack of defensive nous makes them tailor-made for handing Liverpool attacking opportunities without the Reds really having to work for them. Atletico Madrid will pose a much sterner test.
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