25 January 2014

Liverpool 2-0 Bournemouth

Moses 26'
Sturridge 60'

I'm not sure how to feel after that. Job done and all, but Liverpool didn't look especially good at that job in the first half, while too many crucial first team players featured for the full 90 minutes.

The XI was fairly similar to the last Saturday's in demoralizing draw against Villa, with Moses, Kelly, and Jones straight swaps for Sterling, Johnson, and Mignolet. But Rodgers at least changed the formation, a lopsided 4-3-3 with Coutinho central ahead of Gerrard and Henderson, Suarez and Sturridge taking turns attacking from the right.

With better finishing, and a better linesman, Liverpool could have won at a canter. Both Sturridge and Suarez were wrongly ruled offside when put through by Gerrard passes over the top. Henderson missed a sitter in the first half, Sturridge hit the crossbar in the second half. Liverpool still won fairly comfortably, rarely threatened after opening the scoring, despite Bournemouth's 12 corners and 19 shots.

But once again, Liverpool struggled to control midfield, especially in the first 25 minutes, but were marginally more protected by the change in formation with Coutinho central. Gerrard's positioning is still incredibly worrying, still too eager to charge into the tackle or interception without a care for what's behind him if he doesn't win position; Henderson's still unsure how to play off his partner, when to sit and when to go forward, where to cover if the captain goes on a wander. But Bournemouth focused their attacks down the flanks, specifically Liverpool's right flank.

Kelly, obviously uncomfortable, obviously lacking match fitness, had absolutely no protection from the change in formation. Which led to multiple Bournemouth attacks down that flank, ending with a Daniels cross into the box, an Arter shot from distance, or a Bournemouth corner. The home side took 12 shots in the first half, but only two were on-target. Until Liverpool scored, it felt too much like Villa, and a better side could have eviscerated Liverpool. But – and no offense meant – Bournemouth aren't a better side.

Meanwhile, Liverpool scored from its first shot on target, its only shot on target in the first half. A quick Sturridge-Suarez counter-attack down Bournemouth's left with Daniels caught up-field, Suarez's cross-field pass to Moses, controlled then cutting onto his stronger foot, hammered inside the near post. Camp will be more than disappointed to concede at the near post, but to be fair, it was a fairly fearsome low shot.

Bournemouth's best two chances came soon after, both down Liverpool's right, but Arter curled his rocket narrowly wide, while Toure did excellently to block Surman's shot from the penalty spot, wide open to receive Daniels' low cross.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the early threat down the flank and from Bournemouth's eight first-half corners, the home side were starting to tire by halftime. Liverpool economically controlled the second-half; Bournemouth could have won a penalty from Kelly's clumsy defending one of the many corners, but that was about it after the interval, and the game was over once Liverpool got the needed second. Another break, another brilliant link-up between Suarez and Sturridge, the Englishman finishing the Uruguayan's throughball with aplomb despite being on his weaker foot, finally getting the (correct) benefit of the doubt from the linesman.

From there, Liverpool were on top, denying Bournemouth any opportunities until the 88th minute, while Sturridge (twice) and Suarez had counter-attack chances to extend the lead. The lone complaint stems from Rodgers' refusal to use his substitutes yet again, replacing Kelly with the returning Flanagan in the 73rd, but waiting another ten minutes to bring on Luis Alberto and Sterling, for Coutinho and Moses. Moses, who rarely features in the league, after scoring his first goal in five months, hauled off. With seven minutes to play. Coutinho, more effective than against Villa but still less effective than he should be, left on for that length of time, even after Liverpool had taken what appeared an insurmountable lead. Suarez, Sturridge, Gerrard, and Henderson all playing the full 90 minutes. I know Liverpool are wholly lacking in depth at the moment – there was literally no one who could have replaced Henderson or Gerrard on the bench, and neither did much running in the final half an hour – but it was still exasperating, especially with the Merseyside Derby in three days.

So, yeah, job done. Into the draw for the fifth round. Suarez and Sturridge are still the most ruthless strike partnership in the country, Skrtel and Toure looked vastly improved (albeit against less than impressive opposition), Liverpool's midfield was marginally better, Flanagan's back.

We'll learn the cost of that progression in little more than 72 hours.


Anonymous said...

Tuesday's match looms larger with each passing day as the one that is most likely to define our season. For oh so many reasons.

The absence of any/muted goal celebrations today by both team and manager was indeed strange. A common denominator was almost certainly on everyone's mind. What might it have been? The lack of support by JH & TW in the transfer market? Their hearts were not really in it.

Vercingetora said...

My take was "we aren't going to gleefully celebrate in games against a lower division club because we're expected to win and it would be unsporting to rub their face in it.". I think BR makes motivational speeches and the players are responding.