As always, match data from Stats Zone, except shot location from Squawka and average player position from ESPN FC.
Maybe the Europa League's not so bad when you've got the ability to completely rotate your XI for the next league match and still win.
It's been a good ten days for Liverpool. An impressive draw in Dortmund, a thorough win over Stoke, that comeback against Dortmund, and now another league victory, this time at Bournemouth, fairly comfortable until Bournemouth's late goal in added time.
At 24.43, #LFC's starting line up was the youngest for the club in the league this season. At the end of the game it was 23.99.— LFC Match by Match (@LFCMbM) April 17, 2016
Only the XIs at Exeter, which was the second-youngest in the club's history, and at Bordeaux were less experienced this season. Five of Liverpool's starters – Ward, Randall, Smith, Stewart, and Ojo – had featured in two or fewer league matches for the club.
To put it another way: before yesterday, Lucas had made 217 Premier League appearances for Liverpool. The other ten starters had made just 260 combined, only 43 more. Take away Kolo Toure, and the other nine players equal Lucas' league appearance total.
And Liverpool won. It was a bit disjointed in the first half, and a bit frightening in the last half-an-hour as Bournemouth made changes and increasingly took the game to Liverpool, but Liverpool won. The inexperienced players did enough; a completely changed defense including a debutant goalkeeper, two kids, Toure, and Lucas nearly kept a clean sheet until King 93rd minute consolation; Joe Allen seemed everywhere in midfield; Ibe and Ojo ran at defenders and created chances; and Firmino and Sturridge provided the firepower up front. Mostly Sturridge.
Since 2012-13, we've seen a Liverpool player take 10 shots in a match just four other times: Suarez v Reading in 2012-13, Suarez v Fulham in 2013-14, Balotelli v Everton in 2014-15, and Coutinho v Norwich in 2015-16.
Rather than a sign of prolificacy, it's usually done out of desperation. Only Suarez against Fulham and Sturridge yesterday actually scored. None of those players put more than three shots on-target: again, Suarez against Fulham and Sturridge at Bournemouth. Suarez put just one on-target against Reading, Balotelli and Coutinho put two on-target. Yesterday's match and the fixture against Fulham were the only matches where Liverpool scored more than once. The last two times it'd happened: v Everton and Norwich, Liverpool drew 1-1.
Incidentally, the previous single-match high under Klopp came in two different cup competitions: seven shots, by Firmino v Stoke in the League Cup and Coutinho v Kazan – one barely a striker, the other most certainly not.
Sturridge's ten were, however, the highest proportion of the team's overall shots from the above list. Ten of 19 is 52.6%, the only the five occurrences where the player had more than half of the side's shots. Suarez took 37% and 31.3% against Reading and Fulham respectively, Balotelli took 41.7% against Everton, and Coutinho took 43.5% against Norwich.
But only one of Sturridge's ten shots truly seemed "selfish": from beyond the halfway line in the 75th minute, not even close to goal and with the keeper not that far off his line. And you can't even get mad at that one because it was so comical. Taking ten shots is truly a shot-monster performance, but its not as if they were bad shots with players in better positions. It certainly wasn't Balotelli against Everton, where eight of Balotelli's 10 shots came from outside the box.
Yesterday's XI and tactics were designed to get the best out of Daniel Sturridge with what Liverpool had available. The defenders supplied the fullbacks and midfielders, the midfielders supplied the fullbacks and attacking line of three, and everybody looked for Sturridge, whether through short passing buildup or quick long balls from the back. And for the most part, it happened. On another day, Sturridge scores at least two more, the most notable near-goals the two off the post and the wonderful back-heeled effort saved by Boruc.
Sturridge has played just 674 minutes in the league this season, and has six goals and an assist. That's a goal or assist every 96 minutes, otherwise known as 0.93 goals+assists per 90 minutes. The next step, clearly, is getting more 90 minutes out of him, with yesterday the first time he'd started four consecutive league matches in more than two years.
Anyone who wants Sturridge out needs to have a word. Scored 49 in 86. The same total as Fowler & 1 better than RUSH pic.twitter.com/XKIFabESH2— LFChistory.net (@LFChistory) April 18, 2016
Simply put, if he stays fit, he's world class, one of the best three or four strikers in the league. It's admittedly a big if, but the reward far outweighs the risk. To be fair, Ibe, Ojo, and Obi Welsh Kenobi were also excellent yesterday, while Ward did good things in goal, but Daniel Sturridge was the rightful star of the show.
Meanwhile, Bournemouth had a surprising amount of shots of their own. Which isn't necessarily surprising given the venue and Liverpool's personnel changes. But 18 opposition shots is the joint-highest total against Klopp's Liverpool, along with West Ham (a) and Tottenham (a). Liverpool blocking nine opposition shots is their highest total in a match the season.
12 of Bournemouth's 18 shots came in the final 30 minutes, with Liverpool increasingly pushed back. Liverpool blocked six of them (Sakho 4; Stewart and Randall 1), including Sakho's 92nd-minute clearance off the line, while Ward excellently saved two more, most notably Grabban's 82nd-minute header. But that mostly inexperienced defense, with Sakho having replaced Toure – and mid-match defensive substitutes are always dangerous – held on.
Unlike the last time Liverpool were on the South Coast, Liverpool held onto to its two-goal lead despite late pressure from the home side. Sure, Southampton are a better side than Bournemouth, but not by as much as you'd expect. And Liverpool did it with that makeshift XI.
That sort of improvement in squad depth, and the potential shown by Liverpool's youngsters, is even more encouraging than the result. That players who rarely play, and rarely play together, were able to gel and to carry out Klopp's often-difficult tactics is no small matter. We said similar after the last three matches (and said similar earlier in the season, only to see set-backs), but there's truly a team here, one that might need fewer tweaks than we thought.
Also more encouraging than the result is the slow-but-sure return to form for Daniel Sturridge.