16 December 2017

Liverpool at Bournemouth 12.17.17

11:30am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
2-2 (h) 04.05.17
3-4 Bournemouth (a) 12.04.16
2-1 Liverpool (a) 04.17.16
1-0 Liverpool (h; League Cup) 10.28.15

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-0 West Brom (h); 1-1 Everton (h); 7-0 Spartak (h)
Bournemouth: 0-1 United (a); 2-2 Palace (a); 1-1 Southampton (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 13; Firmino 5; Coutinho, Mané 4; Sturridge 2; Alex O-C, Can, Henderson, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Bournemouth: Defoe, Wilson 3; King, Surman 2; Arter, S Cook, Daniels, Fraser, Stanislas 1

Referee: Andre Marriner (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Gomez Lovren Klavan Milner
Wijnaldum Henderson Can
Mané Firmino Coutinho

We're having a minor crisis of confidence here.

Two stuttering, slightly unlucky draws to slow down Liverpool's run. Stifled attacking play, dismal finishing, and some unhelpful referee decisions. It's not been the most enjoyable week, especially considering the six weeks which came before.

So, sure, it's a great time to play a side that twice drove Liverpool insane last season, twice coming back to take points off of Liverpool despite a Liverpool lead, drawing 2-2 at Anfield despite a 2-1 lead in the 86th minute and losing 3-4 at Bournemouth despite a 3-1 lead in the 75th minute. It took a few more matches to truly set in, but defeat at Bournemouth last December marked the beginning of Liverpool's winter of discontent a year ago. Liverpool topped the table going into that round of fixtures. They'd never see first again after that loss.

At least Bournemouth won't play like Everton or West Brom. Eddie Howe doesn't know how. Their last game at United seems illustrative. Bournemouth attacked United. Bournemouth out-shot United. Bournemouth looked to both build play and counter quickly. And Bournemouth only lost because of one well-taken Lukaku header and an inability to get past De Gea at the other end.

Which makes it even harder to guess Liverpool's XI, not that it's been anywhere near easy lately. There will undoubtedly be a surprise or two left out. But Liverpool seem more likely to play 4-3-3, because Liverpool won't have to draw out a reluctant home side as they did at West Ham, Stoke, and Brighton, because Bournemouth are coming at them anyway.

Mignolet will come back in at keeper. Gomez will return at full-back. Lovren and Klavan have to remain center-backs. Robertson probably gets a breather given he's had two consecutive starts after not playing for a few months. As usual, the front six is harder to guess. Let's start with the one I'm guessing absent. Liverpool's player of the season so far: Mohamed Salah. He's started every match since Stoke, four already in December, when every other attacker's had at least one match on the bench.

Salah's absence should mean either Coutinho or Oxlade-Chamberlain in the front three. The former would lead to Henderson, Can, and Wijnaldum in midfield, the latter seeing one of them left out as Coutinho plays deeper. Lallana's probably only fit enough for the bench, having made just one short substitute appearance a few weeks back. Sturridge is, again, struggling with some sort of minor injury.

But, of course, I could be completely wrong and it's 4-4-2 with Salah and Firmino and Oxlade-Chamberlain and Coutinho and Henderson and Wijnaldum and who knows anymore it's almost been refreshing to not be able to guess the side. Well, as long as Liverpool win.

Not that it's especially mattered against Liverpool lately, but Bournemouth are winless in their last five, with draws against Swansea, Southampton, and Palace, and losses against Burnley and United. They also have a mammoth week ahead. Not that sides don't or won't get up for games against Liverpool – especially after last season's fixtures – but they've a League Cup quarterfinal at Chelsea on Wednesday followed by a trip to runaway leaders Manchester City next Saturday.

So we'll see some rotation from Bournemouth. An XI something like Begovic; Smith, S Cook, Ake, Daniels; Stanislas, L Cook, Surman, Fraser; King, Defoe. But Eddie Howe's necessarily rotated his side over the last few weeks anyway, which makes guessing the XI slightly a fool's game here as well. Gosling and Arter are other options in midfield; Pugh and Ibe could play on the flanks. But that back line has usually been the back line, and King and Defoe are usually preferred up front – although Callum Wilson could definitely pose a few threats on the counter. Federici, Mings, and ex-Liverpool player Brad Smith are out injured.

This will be Liverpool's ninth match in the last month. They'll have another five after this before finally getting a week between fixtures. It's gotten gritty. It's gone off the boil. There have been disappointments.

Liverpool are still unbeaten during this stretch. Liverpool are still playing better, with a deeper squad, than they were at this time last season, even during the last two draws.

So rather than tiresome and unwelcomed, this is another opportunity. Not only an opportunity to reverse the recent minor rot, but also to avenge last season's failures in this fixture.

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