And the doubts creep back. This was the latest attempt by Liverpool to prove they could win games they were expected to albeit without Sadio Mané, their leading goalscorer who began the day by posting a picture of himself in the unpromising position: on the couch, wearing a knee brace.
Jürgen Klopp confirmed before kick-off that at the moment it looks as though Mané will be incapable of playing “one more game this season,” and so, it was imperative that Liverpool won this one – giving them the confidence that they might just about be ok without him. Joshua King’s equaliser, which arrived four minutes from the end arrived like a stab through in the side, reminding of tender parts.
It is understandable why Mané’s absence had caused so much concern. The Senegalese did not play when Liverpool lost at Burnley in August. He was taken off when Liverpool were 3-1 up at Bournemouth in December – which transpired to be their second defeat of the season. In the month he was away at the Africa Cup of Nations, Liverpool lost four in seven games, were knocked out of both domestic cup and saw their hopes of securing a title diminish.
Liverpool missed him here as well. His replacement Divock Origi might have scored but he simply does not pose the same threat. When the visitors took an early lead, indeed, the signs were not good. Bournemouth, of course, had been beneficiaries of sub-standard Liverpool goalkeeping earlier in the season, which allowed them to make an improbable full-recovery. This time, their opening goal was a gift. There had been several misplaced Liverpool passes before Benik Afobe became the first Bournemouth player to score at Anfield since 1927 but none were quite as under-cooked as Georginio Wijnaldum’s, who’s was directed at Simon Mignolet but fell woefully short. Afobe was sniffing around and in front of the Kop, he flicked past the Liverpool goalkeeper.
The game was six minutes old. Wijnaldum has been a good signing so far for Liverpool but this was a real character test – how would he react? How would Liverpool react? In Afobe and King, Eddie Howe was bold enough to start with two players in attack, so surely Liverpool would have the space in midfield to create openings.
Philippe Coutinho’s touch, though, was off. Emre Can was taking too many touches. Klopp was unhappy with the movement of Origi. Bournemouth were working very hard to narrow the angles and Harry Arter, a pest of the worst kind. King’s pace and hunger to hunt down Liverpool’s defenders was causing Ragnar Klavan problems particularly and he nearly extended Bournemouth’s advantage. This came after Marc Pugh skidded a volley across Mignolet’s six-yard box, beating Mignolet but not the post.
Because Bournemouth have been a Premier League team for two seasons it is easy to forget their defence began their careers at the club in League Two. When opponents like Roberto Firmino and Coutinho find their groove, it is too much for them and it proved to be the case here, with the pair combining to allow Coutinho to score his 29th Premier League goal, meaning he joins Juninho as the most successful Brazilian scorer in English football history.
Liverpool’s equaliser came a few minutes before the break, just as it did against Burnley on this ground three weeks ago. Liverpool set a blistering pace in the second half and would have been ahead quickly had it not been for the finger-tips of Artur Boruc who nudged Nathaniel Clyne’s Josimar style shot from the corner of the eighteen-yard box onto the crossbar.
Liverpool kept coming at Bournemouth. It was clear that Clyne had been instructed by Klopp to play further forward and this gave Liverpool greater width. The genesis of Liverpool’s lead, though, came from the other side of the pitch, with Wijnaldum redeeming himself following his earlier mistake by turning beautifully past Jack Wilshere and supplying a cross for Origi to head in.
Klopp had said that he would think with more tactical conservatism in order to see Liverpool into the Champions League and this was evident when he withdrew Coutinho and introduced Joel Matip – the centre-back who had not started the game because of a niggling back injury. With that, Liverpool’s defence became a three. Klopp had surrendered an advantage better than this to Bournemouth already this season. Liverpool would not lose this time. But drop points, they did.
Liverpool (4-3-3): Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Milner; Can, Lucas, Wijnaldum; Firmino, Origi, Coutinho (Matip 65). Subs not used: Karius, Sturridge, Grujic, Moreno, Woodburn, Alexander-Arnold.
Bournemouth (4-4-2): Boruc, Smith, Francis, S Cook, Daniels; Ibe (Fraser 61), Arter Wilshere, Pugh; King, Afobe. Subs not used: Allsop, Gradel, Smith, L Cook, Fraser, Mousset, Cargill.