Having beaten Manchester City in the quarter-finals of the Champions League on Tuesday night and being drawn against Roma in the semi-final on Friday, our domestic campaign is in danger of falling into the shadow of our European exploits. Indeed, this was the case a couple of season ago when we reached the Europa League final and Jurgen Klopp insisted on giving the under-23’s a run out in the Premier League for the final six games of the season. This game would give us a true reflection of the manager’s intentions between now and next Tuesday at least, when the first of our semi-final is to be played. Could Bournemouth be in for a pleasant surprise on Liverpool’s team-sheet when they rocked up to Anfield on Saturday?
Unfortunately, not for Eddie Howe’s men. Jurgen Klopp went with a very strong side which only featured one change from the 2-1 win at the Etihad. James Milner was dropped to the bench and Jordan Henderson re-assumed his place in front of Liverpool’s back four, which consisted of Dejan Lovren, Virgil Van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson. Supposedly the most demoralising thing for The Cherries will have been the sight of Liverpool’s front three – Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah all started.
Howe decided to enter this game with an uncharacteristically defensive mindset. Bournemouth’s insistence on remaining expansive in their play despite their perceived inferiority to the rest of the league has won them many plaudits since their promotion in 2014/15. Today however they lined up with a back five, featuring Ryan Fraser and Charlie Daniels as wing-backs flanking Nathan Ake, Simon Francis and Steve Cook in centre-back. Former Liverpool winger Jordon Ibe started alongside Josh King, with both playing in behind veteran striker Jermaine Defoe.
After a rousing rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone on the twenty ninth anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster as beautiful mosaic was held up on The Kop in tribute to the 96. This date always serves as a reminder to Liverpool fans of the tragedy that unfolded in Sheffield on 15th April 1989 and the injustice that followed for twenty-seven years afterwards. The ruling of unlawful killing in 2016 brought the families some peace but will never bring their loved ones back. No one should go to a football match and never come home.
There was still a game of football to be played on this sombre occasion though, and if anyone doubted Liverpool’s hunger and desire to win this game after the midweek Champions League win they would be sorely mistaken. Klopp’s boys flew out of the blocks and had a chance early on when Mo Salah headed a Trent Alexander-Arnold cross goalwards, only for Asmir Begovic to tip it behind. From the resulting corner Liverpool decided to play it short. Henderson eventually whipped a delightful ball into the box for Sadio Mane, who had got across Nathan Ake, to attack. His header was parried back into danger by Begovic and Mane was on hand to convert the rebound. Liverpool were 1-0 up within seven minutes and thoroughly deserved the lead.
We managed to keep up the pace and intensity too. Bournemouth were finding it difficult to get out of their half while we looked like we could play all night and not break sweat. We were particularly dominant in the middle of the park, where Dan Gosling and Lewis Cook couldn’t live with the physicality of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gini Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson. Each of Liverpool’s midfield three brought something different and it was Wijnaldum especially who was getting amongst the opposition and causing them issues in ball retention. Henderson had a superb first half, displaying the type of passing ability which has seen Jurgen Klopp keep faith with him this season despite his detractors. Oxlade-Chamberlain has been a revelation and a key reason why we don’t look like we have missed Philippe Coutinho since his mid-season departure. Again, today he received the ball on the half-turn on numerous occasions, ready to spring towards goal and demolish the Bournemouth defence at a moment’s notice.
The away side couldn’t escape the Red wave that would crash over the as often as the tide on a beach. They would try to get out but were being crowded out in midfield and didn’t have the quality up front to hold up the ball. Van Dijk and Lovren had the measure of Defoe and were always going to in fairness. However out dominance was failing to yield any clear-cut chances, although there were plenty of half chances. Oxlade-Chamberlain took control of a loose ball in midfield and drove towards goal, before dragging a shot wide. Shortly before that Mo Salah was played in by Jordan Henderson on the edge of the box but could only pea-roll a shot into the welcoming gloves of Begovic.
When the referee called time on the first half it will have been music to Eddie Howe’s ears. His side were being outplayed in every area of the pitch and were lucky to go in only 1-0 down. It was only one goal they needed to get back into this game though and they will have been hoping for the sloppy Liverpool of old to come out in the second period to enhance their chances of gaining at least a point. Jurgen Klopp will have been keen for his side to not have that be the case. We had created plenty but not really tested Begovic as much as we should have. More goals will be needed to kill off this game and we certainly had them in our locker.
Liverpool continued to control the game in the second half and probed more going forward. We have done everything right from forward to midfield this season and often neglected our defensive duties. Today the opposite seemed to be true, as we were perfect from goalkeeper to midfield but were failing to be as devastating as we had been all season up top. That was until the sixty ninth minute.
Mo Salah had not had his best game and seemed possibly had the Golden Boot on his mind a couple of times today. For a man who was usually so philanthropic to his team-mates in the box, he seemed more concerned with scoring when there were options to pass to in the box. After having a penalty appeal turned down moments earlier when he was clearly pushed in the back by Nathan Ake as he chased a ball over the top in the area, he would get his moment. Alexander-Arnold came forward from right-back and played a sumptuous ball into the area, not for the first time this afternoon. Salah ran across the front of Ake but had his work cut out for him if he was to make anything out of the ball. In one movement he jumped and twisted in mid-air to lob a header over Begovic from inside the six-yard-box. It was a sublime finish from a superb cross and Liverpool finally had the goal they craved, Salah’s thirtieth in the league this season and fortieth – yes, 40 – in all competitions.
This second half was Liverpool peacocking effectively. We have not played with such confidence all season and indeed this was true for the full ninety minutes. After Salah doubled our lead though the shackles were truly off. Unfortunately, that was the case for both sides. Bournemouth started to come back into the game and create chances for themselves. Callum Wilson had come on for Jermaine Defoe and was making more of a handful of himself than Defoe did. Bournemouth had a target to aim from crosses and this almost led to a goal. Dejan Lovren and Virgil Van Dijk failed to deal with a Ryan Fraser cross, and the former headed against Wilson in the six-yard-box before tamely poking the ball away from goal. Dan Gosling was on hand to shoot from eight yards out but it was straight at Loris Karius, who palmed the ball away powerfully. There would be time for one more goal though. Thankfully, it would come from a red shirt.
Roberto Firmino had already missed one big opportunity this afternoon when Oxalde-Chamberlain found him unmarked on the corner of the Bournemouth area. He looked certain to score but decided to cut back inside the diving Steve Cook and Begovic. This tangled the ball under his feet and his limp shot was cleared off the line by Ake. In stoppage time though he had the ball at his feet in the area again. After again receiving the ball on the edge of the box from Oxlade-Chamberlain, Firmino had learned his lesson and this time fired an early shot towards Begovic’s near post. This clearly caught the goalkeeper off-guard, as he was unable to get near it and Liverpool now had a 3-0 lead. It would be the final meaningful action of the game as the referee put Bournemouth out of their misery not long after.
This game was in danger of having a bit of a ‘after the lord mayor’s show’ feel about it. For as fun and exhilarating the past couple of weeks have been – and I’m sure the next couple of weeks will be – they have also been draining. All the usual cries of “where’s your famous atmosphere?” could be levelled at us fairly today. But the truth is you can’t have coach welcome’s and flairs for every game. Jurgen Klopp would have been forgiven today for playing a similar side to the one he put out against Everton last week. He didn’t do that though. He sent a message to everyone – his players, the opposition, the rest of the league, us – that Liverpool still mean business, whether we’re in the Champions League or not. The players responded accordingly putting in their most confident display of the season.