After losing two straight games and three of its last four — including its first Premier League defeat in more than a year — Liverpool fans were expecting a huge response from the runaway Prem leaders when relegation-threatened Bournemouth visited Anfield for a Saturday matinee.
Hey, at least they got the win. In yet another sub-par performance by their own lofty standards, the Reds deservedly fell behind on Callum Wilson’s well-worked (if controversial) seventh-minute goal. And while they eventually overpowered the Cherries with an equalizer from Mohamed Salah and a go-head strike from fellow forward Sadio Mane, the victory was far from convincing.
It was probably never realistic to expect Jurgen Klopp’s team to maintain the torrid pace they enjoyed over the past 12 months, a run of form that included Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup titles in addition to their utter domination of the Prem.
Yet it was clear even before’s Liverpool’s defeat last week against another bottom-feeder, Watford, that Klopp’s lot had lost some of their cutting edge. That was the case again on Saturday. After giving up the opener via a Bournemouth counterattack, the demonstrative Klopp could be seen on the sideline imploring his team to attack. Still, the execution and urgency from his players appeared to be lacking.
That was evident even in the buildup to Salah’s excellent strike. A dreadful giveaway by Bournemouth reserve center back Jack Simpson — who had just replaced the injured Steve Cook — gifted the hosts a golden chance, but Mane’s poor pass to Salah nearly allowed the visitors to recover. Salah, however, kept his composure to pull the hosts level.
Another unforced error led to Liverpool’s winner. Virgil van Dijk, the Reds’ all-planet central defender, started the sequence when he stepped into midfield to intercept the ball and immediately played it into the path of Mane, who coolly beat Cherries keeper Aaron Ramsdale with a right-footed effort inside the far post:
One could argue that both goals came against the run of play. On the other hand, Reds fans felt that Wilson had fouled Joe Gomez just before his opener.
There was no question that Wilson pushed Gomez off the ball, but it certainly wasn’t a “clear and obvious” infraction, and either way the hosts’ defending left a lot to be desired on the play. Indeed, the controversial strike stood upon review by the video assistant referee:
Bournemouth kept coming in the early part of the second half. Eddie Howe’s team was desperate to take even a point from the match, given their perilous position at third from bottom, and they had a few good opportunities to get it. Home keeper Adrian (filling in for the injured Alisson Becker) was forced into at least one good stop, and he was beaten on a pretty chip from Ryan Fraser that James Milner acrobatically cleared off the line on the hour mark to preserve the lead.
That was as close as the Cherries got. Liverpool’s class shone through after that, although they were unable to add an insurance goal and endured a nervy final few minutes for a fanbase whose confidence has been shaken by the performances they’d witnessed in recent weeks.
A win is a win, though — this one good for a record 22nd straight at home. Klopp and Co. will surely take it. But while a first English title in 30 years remains all but a forgone conclusion, the fact is that Saturday’s showing was far from convincing. If Liverpool is to overturn a 1-0 aggregate deficit against Atletico Madrid on Wednesday in the Champions League round of 16, they’ll have to be significantly better.
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