16 August 2015

Liverpool v Bournemouth 08.17.15

3pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
3-1 Liverpool (a; League Cup) 12.17.14
2-0 Liverpool (a; FA Cup) 01.25.14
4-1 Liverrpol (h; FA Cup) 01.30.68
0-0 (a; FA Cup) 01.27.68

Last match:
Liverpool: 1-0 Stoke (a)
Bournemouth: 0-1 Villa (h)

Referee: Craig Pawson

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Skrtel Lovren Gomez
Henderson Milner
Ibe Benteke Coutinho

There won't be many, if any, changes from last Sunday's XI. Rodgers preached and practiced continuity during preseason, and I expect that'll remain the case for the time being.

That said, there should be at least one change based on Liverpool's performance a week ago. And there are two options for that one change. Either start with the midfield that finished the match at Stoke or start Bobby Firm. And either way, Adam Lallana should be the player that makes way.

Emre Can provides more midfield balance, a stronger platform to build from. Bobby Firm – in theory, admittedly, as we've seen little of the player – provides more attacking explosiveness and pressing. Liverpool could do with either of those abilities. Maybe both changes occur, both Ibe and Lallana replaced (at this point of his career, I still think Ibe's more useful as a substitute), the exact XI which finished the match at Stoke, but that seems a bridge too far at this stage of the season.

Tomorrow will help answer the question, "Was Liverpool's conservatism at Stoke because of the opponent or because Rodgers feels it's the best way for the new Liverpool to acclimatize or because Liverpool's just not very good right now?" And I suspect the answer is "Yes."

Liverpool, at Anfield, against a promoted side, have to be more threatening, but by how great a degree remains to be seen. Last Sunday was nearly a low-water mark as far as attacking output goes, a dire affair rescued by the magical right foot of Coutinho. But Liverpool's focus was on not conceding, which was wholly explainable given what had gone on the previous time Liverpool travelled to Stoke. Safety first. There's no historical trauma in this fixture, but I still suspect we'll see similar tomorrow, a more threatening Liverpool at home, but not as threatening as we'd expect or like. In August, all that matters is getting points on the board. I don't want to encourage the parallel, because this is a very different, not-as-good side, but it's the same thought process that was behind the start of 2013-14.

At least Bournemouth isn't an unknown quantity. Liverpool have had rather straightforward ties against the club in both domestic cup competitions in the last two seasons. Of course, this will be a different predicament; cup competitions were a bonus for both clubs, this is the league.

Bournemouth's XI will look a lot like last week's against Aston Villa, and a fair bit like their recent matches against Liverpool. Boruc; Francis, Elphick, Cook, Daniels; Ritchie, Gosling, Surman, Pugh; King; Wilson. Maybe new signing Lee Tomlin makes his debut in place of Josh King. Maybe record signing Tyrone Mings comes in at center- or left-back. Maybe Christian Atsu – on loan from Chelsea, missing last week through injury – or Max Gradel start on the flanks, but I suspect both will be potential attacking changes used from the bench, if at all. And that's about all the possible changes. Bournemouth, like so many other promoted sides, have a fairly small squad to choose from.

Last week's match against Aston Villa would have proceeded rather differently had Bournemouth taken one of their many first-half chances, but Gosling missed his, Pugh's and Wilson's were saved. Had it been Liverpool, you'd expect at least one of those to go in because, well, Liverpool. I also can't help but focus on Callum Wilson, a player who won 11 (!!!) penalties last season, more than double anyone else in England.

Like Rodgers was at Swansea, Eddie Howe is both praised and kind of patronized in the same measure, a young manager lauded for his unfashionable side's attacking football: dominating possession, creating chances. As they did all of last season in the Championship, and as they did against Villa. But Bournemouth couldn't convert possession into goals last week, couldn't take those chances, and succumbed 0-1 to a towering header from a corner. Any of this sounding familiar, Liverpool fans?

More than enough pixels and ink have been spilled about Liverpool's difficult start to the season. These matches, those at home, those Liverpool are "expected" to win, are where Liverpool need to shine. Last week was a start, a pleasing if also bare minimum start, but a start nonetheless. Now Liverpool need to take the next step.

Meta: I suspect most of you remember from previous seasons, but as tomorrow's a weekday match (as is next week's), there won't be an immediate match review because work. There will be the usual, probably-slightly-longer, match infographic up on Tuesday morning though.

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