Written by Neil Dawson
Unlike the Grand National taking place ten minutes away…there was one heavy favourite at Anfield yesterday………..and it romped home unopposed. Riding the back of a historic European win and backed by a euphoric crowd Liverpool were too much for Bournemouth to resist, especially their much vaunted front three who all scored.
Eddie opted to start 4-4-2 with King replacing Wilson behind Defoe. Ibe returned to replace Pugh. This became 5-4-1 though as his team desperately tried to gain a foothold. The game plan was clear – frustrate Liverpool by sitting off and reducing space and hope for a chance at the other end. Not great to watch but it did take Liverpool 70 minutes to score their second so you could argue it was partially effective.
The first half was all Liverpool. Other than a speculative Ibe shot over the bar and an offside Defoe ‘goal’ from a well-worked corner routine, it was wave upon wave of red attacks. Salah was heading for 30 goals come what may and he fired wide in the second minute when he should have scored. MANE showed him how before ten minutes was up. Left unmarked by Francis he inexcusably had time to fire at Begovic and then pick off the rebound unopposed. The rest of the half was the Salah v Begovic show but the mercurial Egyptian looked like he had left his shooting boots at the Ethiad prompting a glorious chorus of ‘what a waste of money’ from the travelling support. When I say ‘travelling support’ i’m referring to the 50% that weren’t from Indonesia or China. I had no idea we were so popular in the Far East.
Begovic was the reason we went in at the break still in the game. He denied Firmino and Mane twice from one on ones attacking them quickly as they entered the box. Any chance Bournemouth had to break floundered on Defoe’s complete inability to get to any ball before Loevren or to run the channels.
HT Liverpool 1 Bournemouth 0
The second half largely followed the pattern of the first. Bournemouth were over-ran in the centre of midfield and couldn’t get the ball and, when they did, the forwards couldn’t anticipate where it would go. It was like a lower division day out cup tie really. But still, they hung on, largely due to the excellence of Cook and Ake. By this stage, it was firmly 5-4-1 and remained that way until Liverpool scored their second. It was a moment of magic from SALAH but not with his feet for once. He anticipated a raking through ball better than Ake and flicked a header over Begovic.
Eddie rang the changes and put on Wilson and Mousset to play a front three with King. This gave Bournemouth their only ‘spell’ of the match. Finally, there was movement up front and Gosling should have scored after they all combined. He snatched his shot though eight yards out. Wilson then easily outpaced Loevren and fired just wide of the post. It was a brief hiatus though and back came Liverpool. Oxlade Chamberlain twice whistled one inches wide before FIRMINO cut inside and beat Begovic at his near post.
FT Liverpool 3 Bournemouth 0
Begovic 7 – Handled well and made some stops to keep the score down.
Francis 5 – Not at his sharpest against this calibre.
Ake 7 – Stuck to his task manfully but will be annoyed about 2nd.
Cook 8 – So many vital blocks, interceptions and reads.
Daniels 5 – Distribution uncharacteristically poor.
Fraser 7 – Buzzed around well and put in a shift.
Gosling 4 – Spent most of the game chasing first touch.
Cook 5 – Some nice spins but never got a grip of the game.
Ibe 4 – Back to his showboating, non-tracking worst.
King 6 – Gave some real moments of quality but unsupported.
Defoe 4 – Embarrassingly non-existent.
MOM – I thought Steve Cook was superb today, him Asmir and Nathan can hold their heads up high for keeping the deficit down.
Whatever we had done today it was highly unlikely we would have won. Any analysis has to start with the acceptance that we played an expensively assembled team at the top of their game. Liverpool play with a rhythm and a buzz that needs more than huff and puff to stop. Man City couldn’t live with it……..there is no shame in losing at Anfield.
I don’t think we set ourselves up to show our best today, however. Liverpool have few weaknesses but the widely acknowledged one is that if you get behind Loevren he doesn’t catch you. How on earth Eddie, therefore, thought Defoe was his best option out of King, Wilson and Mousset is beyond me. The brief spell of Wilson showed what could have happened had he, or Josh, been the lone front man. He even had a memory of the damage Josh did here last year. Defoe was awful. A man has not been less involved in a game of football since my 55-year-old uncle filled a left wing spot in an emergency caused by a late night card game.
Our persistence with a midfield two rumbles on and while daft against any team it becomes ridiculously daft against a team of this midfield quality. I felt sorry for Cook and Gosling – they needed one more. It’s a shame Arter is out of favour because, again, he ruffled them last year all game with his energy and harrying. We had no equivalent this season.
Liverpool showed the beauty of a 4-3-3 and fluid forward line and it was interesting that when we finally matched them we looked like a team that was in the game. Will we learn? Probably not. I’m not for one minute suggesting we would have got anything out of the game had we lined up differently but I do think it would have been less of a parade to victory.
Anyway – Saints lost and the teams above them won so it was a great day. Couple this with a great atmosphere and the fact we didn’t get tonked like Watford did and I can live with that. It would be nice to end the season with a bit more endeavour though. On to the Mancs!