16 April 2016

Liverpool at Bournemouth 04.17.16

8:30am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports Live Extra

Last four head-to-head:
1-0 Liverpool (h; League Cup) 10.28.15
1-0 Liverpool (h) 08.17.15
3-1 Liverpool (a; League Cup) 12.17.14
2-0 Liverpool (a; FA Cup) 01.25.14

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 4-3 Dortmund (h); 4-1 Stoke (h); 1-1 Dortmund (a)
Bournemouth: 2-1 Villa (a); 0-4 City (h); 0-3 Tottenham (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Firmino 8; Benteke, Coutinho 7; Sturridge 5; Origi 4; Lallana 3; Henderson, Ings, Lallana 2; Allen, Can, Clyne, Moreno, Skrtel, Toure 1
Bournemouth: King, Wilson 5; Afobe, Cook 4; Daniels, Gosling, Murray, Ritchie, Stanislas 3; Pugh, Smith 2; Arter, Gradel 1

Referee: Mike Jones

Guess at a line-up:
Flanagan Lovren Sakho Smith
Milner Stewart Allen
Ojo Firmino

It seems way too soon for a Liverpool match; I'm still living off the fumes of Thursday. It'd take some incredible discipline for Liverpool's players to not feel similarly, with the added weight of actually playing those 90 ferocious minutes.

Given both physical and mental fatigue levels, and with Everton coming to Anfield on Wednesday, I suspect tomorrow's lineup will feature as many changes as the XI against Stoke did. Those XIs will probably look very similar. Everton, incidentally, have entirely changed its usual front six for today's match in preparation for Wednesday (and drew 1-1).

Maybe Lucas starts instead of, or alongside Stewart, now that he'll be needed in the Europa League because of Can's injury and without Stewart available for that competition. Maybe we'll get a diamond midfield: say, Stewart, Allen, Milner, Firmino/Coutinho behind two from Sturridge, Origi, and Firmino. Liverpool often look good in that formation, as in the second half of both legs against Dortmund, but it's a difficult formation to succeed with against an orthodox 4-4-2 like Bournemouth play. Maybe Klopp rotates one or both of center-backs and not the full-backs, as against Stoke, although I'd prefer to see the opposite; Clyne's played more minutes than anyone else in the squad and Moreno could probably use the rest as well. I doubt we'll see an entirely different back four, as that's often asking for trouble.

There will be changes, definitely to personnel and probably to formation. As usual, it's how Liverpool's players cope with the alterations; we know they'll be well prepared by the manager. It's a different match against different opposition, but it's encouraging that a changed XI did their jobs and took their chances in a similar situation against Stoke, albeit at Anfield, a week ago.

Meanwhile, Bournemouth have overachieved this season: firmly ensconced in mid-table, in 13th place and 11 points clear of the relegation zone, narrowly ahead of established sides such as Everton, Swansea, and West Brom.

They've been a better version of last year's Burnley: 4-4-2, a fairly set line-up as far as injuries allow, hard-working and direct. They've done well against their peers but struggled against the tier above, which is exactly what you need to do to stay in the league. That this Bournemouth side, predicted by most to finish bottom, could finish in the top half of the table is a massive achievement, overshadowed by the even more unlikely storylines this season. In the last month, Bournemouth convincingly beat Southampton, Newcastle, and Villa; impressively held off Swansea 3-2; and were hammered by both Tottenham and Manchester City.

Callum Wilson is back from a long knee injury, and could make his first start since September, but is more likely to be a substitute. Despite only starting six matches, he remains Bournemouth's joint-top scorer with five goals. Arter, Mings, Smith remain injured, while both Afobe and Stanislas are doubtful. Bournemouth's XI seems almost certainly the same seen in last week's comfortable 2-1 win at Aston Villa: Boruc; Francis, Elphick, Cook. Daniels; Ritchie, Surman, Gosling, Gradel; King, Grabban

Bournemouth made Liverpool work for both its narrow 1-0 Anfield victories this season. The first, the second match of the season, saw Liverpool even more wasteful than usual, needing a clearly-offside goal to win the match. When these sides met in the League Cup two months later, in Klopp's fourth match, a much-changed Liverpool eked out a victory through Clyne's early close-range rebound for Klopp's first win. Both were, however, a very long time ago as far as Liverpool's concerned.

Liverpool's victory over Dortmund demonstrated just how far this team's come in its ability to recover from set-backs and deficits, but how Liverpool start this match will still be a massive factor in how this match finishes. No side has scored more than Bournemouth in the first 30 minutes of Premier League games this season, with eight goals, level with Manchester City and Stoke. Liverpool, in comparison, have three.

Liverpool scored in the first 30 minutes in both meetings against Bournemouth – Benteke in the 26th in the league, Clyne in the 17th in the League Cup – and fairly easily held onto the victory despite a handful of chances and challenges from the Cherries. It seems simple to say, but just do the same tomorrow. We could use a game without the fear of heart failure.

No comments :