09 February 2019

Liverpool 3-0 Bournemouth

Mané 24'
Wijnaldum 34'
Salah 48'

I'm not gonna lie. I got worried when Liverpool opened the scoring. For the third straight match, Liverpool poured forward from the opening whistle. For the third straight match, the opposition were pushed back, but the opposition also dropped back, happy to try to contain and control in their own half from the start. And, for a while it worked, until Sadio Mané opened the scoring. For the third straight match.

Just as against Leicester, just as at West Ham. And, yes, we remember what happened from there.

But this wasn't Groundhog Day again.

The morale of the story may be "well, it's Bournemouth." And, yes, they are a lot more open side than Leicester or West Ham.

Yes, but.

Bournemouth are usually a more attacking team, especially as "rest-of-the-league" sides go. Bournemouth do concede, regularly – only the bottom four sides have allowed more goals this season. Bournemouth had lost seven consecutive away games going into this, letting in two goals in all seven.

But Bournemouth were also trying to do what both Leicester and West Ham did: concede possession, concede territory, clog the middle of the pitch, especially in the defensive third. Bournemouth were much ore a 4-5-1 than their usual 4-4-1-1/4-4-2. Bournemouth made six interceptions in the first 23 minutes, and cleared the ball from inside their own box on nine occasions. The only space Liverpool consistently found was on the flanks, especially though Robertson and Milner. Which, to be fair, has worked in the past, but is not where Liverpool are at their most effective and can also leave Liverpool susceptible to counter-attacks.

Still, that's where Liverpool's opening goal came from, as well as from a set play, even if basically in name only. Bournemouth cleared the first ball in from Milner's corner, but Keïta reclaimed, Milner crossed, and an almost-but-not-quite offside Mané headed past Boruc. Simple as that.

Bournemouth failed to keep Liverpool at further bay, as Leicester did, or try to take the game to Liverpool, as West Ham did. Liverpool kept coming. That Liverpool midfield kept pressing, and in the 34th minute, Keïta's tackle pushed the ball to Mané, then over the backline by Robertson, delightfully controlled and then finished even more sumptuously by Wijnaldum, a jaw-dropping chip over Boruc.

That's what Liverpool had been missing. The comfort of a second goal, especially one scored in the 34th minute. A goal from Liverpool's midfield, a fourth runner into the box so the defense can't focus on that front three. Now we can play Liverpool's game.

Also, good finishing is really, really good. I'm almost not surprised Liverpool needed a goal that special to get a second after the previous two matches.

It's a formality when Liverpool get their third, one of those lighting four-pass moves that breaks opponents backs, one of those lightning moves that Liverpool finds more often when they've already scored one or two. Milner's throw-in, Mané's shift inside, Keïta's remarkable pass in behind to Firmino, and a back heel just as good for Salah to run onto, of course finished into the far corner.

This is the Liverpool we know and love.

But if this was truly Liverpool at its most imperious, we've have gotten more from there. A lot more. Salah's goal was Liverpool's first clear-cut chance. They'd go on to get three more – one headed wide by Mané, the other two shot too close to Boruc on fast breaks in the final five minutes. And Salah slammed a shot off the crossbar. And Keïta ballooned the best chance he's had to score his first Liverpool goal. And. And. And.

Meanwhile, there were few if any "ands" for Bournemouth.

This is the difference that a functioning midfield makes. Wijnaldum, back in the side after missing the last match, and Keïta, increasingly excellent with increasing game time. Fabinho, more and more accustomed to playing as the deepest in a three rather than a two-man partnership, the metronome at the base, the protection against counters through the middle. Keïta had a hand in all three goals: hockey assists on the first and third, pressing to start the move for Liverpool's second. He also led the side in touches, tackles, and ball recoveries. Wijnaldum scored that second and created three chances, one clear-cut.

It was the best that Liverpool had looked in the 4-3-3 in months, and while the midfield was a big part of that, the front three played theirs as well. Goals for both Mané – his fourth in four games – and Salah. Four chances created, one clear-cut and assist, for the terrific Firmino, also denied a deserved goal late on.

But Alisson also made two good, if routine, saves and a couple of necessary punches and clearances. Neither Milner nor Robertson were exposed despite spending the majority of the match in Bournemouth's half. Matip, like Keïta, looks increasingly comfortable, this his fourth consecutive start after not playing for more than a month prior. And van Dijk remains van Dijk; yes, yes, the defending, but I will also forever rue Firmino not passing to him in the 80th minute, the 6'4" center-back charging down the pitch alongside the three-on-two fast break. You always feed the big man when he joins the fast break.

So much for Liverpool's nerves. So much for Liverpool cracking under the pressure. So much for Liverpool's crisis.

Sure, it's only Bournemouth – a side that Liverpool had beaten 4-0, 3-0, and 4-0 in the three previous meetings. But similar could be said about West Ham last Wednesday. Similar can be said about a lot of sides in this division.

Liverpool beat the one in front of them this week, winning a match by multiple goals for the first time in 2019. And they'll need to play similarly against the next one. And the one after that. And the one...


Minty, LFC said...

I feel like everyone else is appreciating Keïta more than me. I feel like the best is still a long way off for him. Once he settles more next season I think we will then start to see the player we really bought.

sunvilla said...

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