BOURNEMOUTH started the game like there had never been a bigger league game for them. They were right to do so. Because there hadn’t. For 20 minutes they were all over The Reds, runners everywhere, one more man, one more ball. But it was 0-0 and they never quite made their huff and puff look like blowing Liverpool’s house down in any material way.
Spiritually though it was a bit of a blow. We’d turned up to see The Reds take flight but instead it was Bournemouth’s early football which was zipless, slick and determined to leave with no regrets.
But Liverpool played themselves into a game they could consider themselves fortunate to be level in. However, during the interval the feeling persisted that Liverpool should have got themselves out of sight. Bournemouth had been unable to live with them from the opener until the break but the lead hadn’t been extended. Liverpool looked an attacker light, Philippe Coutinho pushed high and asked to hang up there even out of possession.
There was general surprise in sunny Kaz Gardens when the team news broke that Liverpool were unchanged — Adam Lallana considered fortunate to keep his place with Jordon Ibe also thought vulnerable. The thought process was that Liverpool would look to get more proper attackers on the pitch. The expectation was that Roberto Firmino would start.
Instead Liverpool shook up the shape around Christian Benteke with Coutinho spending time right and Lallana more central with Ibe endlessly left. James Milner going where he was needed. First half everyone flitted around but Ibe was endlessly left. Henderson tended to hold making it that bastard of a shape 4-4-1. The shape where it feels like neither of the 1s gets quite enough support. Neither one thing nor the other.
Second half Bournemouth upped it, Emre Can came on for the captain and Liverpool lost the semblance of control they’d had. Correlation isn’t causation but Liverpool do appear to have a with and without Jordan Henderson vibe already. That said Milner gritted his teeth and must have given as much as 93 percent. More than he perhaps should have to against Bournemouth but the men from the South Coast had a loyal, loud support with dreadful songs and they had everything to give for it had never been bigger.
The nature of the game changed. No second goal meant things got nervy. Liverpool stayed reasonably solid and made a change that made clear the aim of the enterprise was the clean sheet with Alberto Moreno coming on. Firmino got told exactly what to do by Milner, Nathaniel Clyne didn’t need telling a thing.
Benteke, goalscorer and number nine, occupying defenders, pushing them back, pushing them sideways. Pushing them. This was serious number nineing, the sort of thing we saw only sporadically from Sturridge last season, the sort of thing that had gone missing in these parts. He chased causes that had looked lost and made them found and yet it looked like his 7/10 performance. If he makes 15 home league starts I think he gets fifteen home league goals.
Let them be opening goals.
Opening goals are everything. Liverpool were twitchy but never nervy. Liverpool were concerned never panicked. Liverpool were leading never pegged back.
They saw it out. Bournemouth’s big day and three flurries. They saw it out, their captain going off injured. They saw it out, 90 minutes of intense football without giving a clear chance away.
Opening goals let you see things out. Lots of things can happen in a football match but most of them happen in 30-second bursts. Liverpool look better than they have in 12 months in 30-second bursts.
Two from 38. If Liverpool ever lose again they may well play better than that 90 minutes in doing so. It’s going to get both harder and easier.
Two from 38. When The Reds…. You know the rest.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo