Reds rediscover top gear to return to Premier League summit
Saturday 9 February 2019 18:01
It was 3.34pm and a lofted pass from Andy Robertson sent Georginio Wijnaldum into the space on the Anfield pitch where the sun was still shining. Wait until you see the Dutch midfielder’s finish: a toe end, a lift and a gorgeous arcing trajectory which enabled the celebrations to start before the ball had even crossed the line. The smile on Wijnaldum’s face as he turned back into the light reflected Liverpool’s mood and suddenly, all of the fuzz and all of the cloud of the last ten days melted away.
This felt like a statement performance and a statement victory. Liverpool’s winning margin should have been greater than it was and perhaps that is the only disappointment considering Manchester City’s appetite for goals. Had it finished 7-1, Bournemouth could not have complained.
Liverpool, though, were right at it. They were organised, they pressed and they suffocated a Bournemouth team who did not suit their own set-up, which was meant to try and stifle, perhaps to build a sense of frustration.
It was the manner, indeed, of Liverpool’s third goal which illustrated their confidence and reassuringly it involved all three of their hungry strikers. Unusually, the first pass came from Sadio Mane but the final two elements were easier to imagine: a back heel with a roll of the studs from Roberto Firmino and then a sliding left foot finish from Mohamed Salah. It had taken eight seconds for possession to transition from one end of the pitch and the speed with which Liverpool operated to kill the game off rendered the attempts of Bournemouth’s players to chase them as pointless, as they disappeared behind them into the evening.
There had been a feeling ahead of kick off that any victory at all would do for Liverpool to return them to the summit of the Premier League table after an uncomfortable period of ten days where they did not capitalise on City’s defeat at Newcastle to extend their advantage. Yet this was their best display of 2019 so far and it probably matters because they look convincing again.
Jurgen Klopp used his programme notes to discuss the issue of the atmosphere inside Anfield during his team’s draw with Leicester, believing that there are “false perceptions” about the apparent nervousness, “amplified on the outside about our supporters.”
Though that did not happen, it could have been different here had Bournemouth taken a lead in the second minute from Ryan Fraser’s curling shot, which needed a strong pair of hands which Alisson provided.
It was an important moment but from there, Liverpool were excellent across the pitch. Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip provided sharp passes into the midfield, the midfield crowded Bournemouth’s and the appetite was clearly there, only initially courage was lacking. This changed when for the third game in a row, Mane sent Liverpool into the lead, this time with a centre-forward’s header that planted into the turf.
Bournemouth had lost each of their previous eight away fixtures and arrived at Anfield without three of their best players in Callum Wilson, David Brooks and Junior Stanislas, as well as the ineligible Nathaniel Clyne, who is on loan from Liverpool. Perhaps they were getting Bournemouth at the right time, especially when you consider they have some problems in the goalkeeping position where Artur Boruc is currently preferred to Asmir Begovic. Boruc has always held the appearance of a goalkeeper who’s just put his kit on in the car park and handed a pair of gloves perhaps having been called from a local saloon. Though thirty-nine in a couple of weeks’ time, his creaking limbs did not play a part in the outcome for Wijnaldum’s outstanding goal, laid on by Robertson – arguably the man of the match. In fact, the Pole prevented Liverpool from going further ahead with an outstanding save from Salah’s spinning volley.
It was 2-0 at half-time and Liverpool were flying again. It helped that Salah slid home Liverpools third just three minutes after the break, though you could not say they relaxed from there because the chances kept coming, the best of which fell to Salah who struck the crossbar.
Encouragingly for Liverpool, the second half gave Klopp the opportunity to reintroduce Trent Alexander-Arnold as a substitute following a month-long injury lay off. His energy allows Liverpool to push much further up the pitch on their right side because he knows he has the pace to get back. On and on, Liverpool went – it really could have been an obliteration. For the time being – given the context – this result gets them back on track and it will do.
Copyright - The Independent