By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool welcome 10th-placed Bournemouth to Anfield as they look to return to winning ways after drawing their previous two matches.
Liverpool looked uninspired for a team that was playing to go five points clear, the front three looked lethargic and lacked ideas in decisive moments. Being level with a game in hand at this stage of the season isn’t a bad thing – our form over the past five weeks however, is something to be concerned about.
Bournemouth on the other hand were on the wrong end of a shock defeat to Cardiff City in Wales. The visitors had 73% of the ball yet failed to test Neil Warnock’s stubborn defence. After making such a bright start to the season, their form post December and has been just shy of relegation form picking up only ten points from a possible 30.
Liverpool’s performances since their 5-1 victory over Arsenal have been frustrating and sluggish. Our defensive woes have not been helped due to injuries, especially when you must play a 32-year-old James Milner against some of the best wingers in the league.
In both previous games, Liverpool took the lead through Sadio Mane with well worked goals, but the opposition levelled following two very stupid, avoidable mistakes. Joel Matip and James Milner completing the right-hand side of defence certainly doesn’t help the cause, missing 50% of your first-choice defence would hurt any team, but it’s the way that we are dealing with it is problematic.
Bournemouth are an ideal team to get back into form due to their play style and with three first team players expected back for the weekend, our fortunes should be turning towards the more positive side for a couple of very important weeks.
Bournemouth have been in mixed form over the past couple of weeks and their last two games prove this. Against Chelsea they were utterly dominant against a strong outfit and eventually ran out 4-0 winners, largely thanks to the excellent form of David Brooks.
Then a couple of days later, they travelled to Cardiff and lost by two goals. Without their two main attacking threats, they lacked ideas and cutting edge and against a Liverpool defence who look uncharacteristically nervous at the back this can only be a good thing.
Having scored the most goals outside the top six with 37, a full-strength Bournemouth attack would be one to be wary of, but without Wilson and Brooks their attack is weak as shown against Cardiff.
Liverpool are in the midst of a serious injury crisis, not only are they without Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren, two of our midfielders are struggling for fitness with both Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum carrying minor knocks.
Both, however, are expected to be back for the weekend. Trent Alexander-Arnold is finally back in full training and should return to the starting line-up, replacing James Milner who has been struggling with an illness, as have Virgil van Dijk and Andy Robertson.
Having previously had the best save percentage in the league, Alisson has now conceded seven from 11 shots on target, only one being a clear-cut chance. The Brazilian has bailed us out many a time this season and is being let down by his defence recently.
With Alexander-Arnold returning to full fitness he should be placed straight into the starting XI. Despite the dire form Joel Matip is in, Jurgen Klopp won’t replace him due to the options available. Gomez and Lovren are still out and their return dates are unknown. Virgil Van Dijk and Andy Robertson should complete the back four with both needing to up their performance levels after disappointing in recent games.
Adam Lallana was one of few players to come away from West Ham with his head somewhat held high. It was him who created the opportunity for Milner to cross to Mane and on top of that his passing was crisp and as always ran himself into the ground, but could make way for Gini Wijnaldum.
Naby Keita recently showed glimpses of the player he was during his days in the Bundesliga, especially when he moved into a more natural position alongside Fabinho in a double-pivot midfield. Sadio Mane is the only one of the front three who has shown any kind of form in the past couple of weeks, the Senegalese international has three goals in his last three appearances.
Artur Boruc has been reinstated into Bournemouth’s first XI courtesy of Asmir Begovic’s surprisingly poor form. Eddie Howe is expected to name a back four rather than a back five allowing for more of threat up front.
With Nathaniel Clyne ineligible due to him being on loan and second-choice right back Simon Francis out for the season, Adam Smith could deputise at right back.
Nathan Ake should start alongside Steve Cook in the centre of defence, Steve Cook’s performance against Liverpool in early December was one to forget, he was at fault for three of the Reds four goals on the day.
Bournemouth are without their star man in midfield, David Brooks who has been strongly linked with a move to Liverpool is out until the end of February with an ankle injury. With Callum Wilson also a major doubt, Bournemouth’s lack of fire power should be telling.
Ryan Fraser and Junior Stanislas should start on either side of a four-man midfield, with Jefferson Lerma and Andrew Surman starting in what could be quite a weak midfield. Josh King has deputised in a centre forward position before and did so in the last defeat against Cardiff. Liverpool old boy Dominic Solanke will more than likely start up front and given our recent luck he will probably be the man to have a decisive impact on the match..
Danger man: Ryan Fraser
Ryan Fraser has gone from strength to strength since he almost single-handedly won the game for Bournemouth when the two sides met just over two years ago. When he was substituted on, the then 22-year-old saw his team 2-0 down to an inform Liverpool. The Scottish international had a hand in three of Bournemouth’s four goals registering two assists and getting on the scoresheet all within the space of 35 second half minutes.
This season Ryan Fraser has been an integral part to Eddie Howe’s side, registering a total of 9 assists only second to Chelsea’s Eden Hazard. For a player of Fraser’s stature to hold such a record is quite remarkable and is a testament to both the player himself and his manager.
He is expected to start on the right-hand side for Bournemouth so will be trying to get the better of Trent Alexander-Arnold. Trent has come up against and has got the better of the world’s best wingers so his personal battle against Andy Robertson’s international team mate shouldn’t be a problem.
Last five results
Premier League – 08/12/2018: Bournemouth 0-4 Liverpool
Premier League – 14/04/2018: Liverpool 3-0 Bournemouth
Premier League – 17/12/2017: Bournemouth 4-0 Liverpool
Premier League – 05/04/2017: Liverpool 2-2 Bournemouth
Premier League – 04/12/2016: Bournemouth 4-3 Liverpool
There were always two teams that Liverpool could play to get back to winning ways and regain some form, Bournemouth or Arsenal. Both these clubs are wide open at the back and often try to play man to man against a much better team.
Liverpool have found out in recent weeks not to underestimate any opponent, both Leicester and West Ham were on run of consecutive losses. Due to excellent play by the opposition and poor defending in important situations by the Reds, Jurgen Klopp’s men dropped points.
The draw against Leicester could well be a defining point in our season, for the first ten minutes the crowd were right up for it as were the players and we could have been two or three up.
We only managed to score one however and the fans thought the job was done and sat back down. When Leicester grew into the game the crowd started to become nervous and it translated to the players on the pitch. Come the end of the 90 minutes Liverpool were lucky not to be on the end of a defeat.
Against Bournemouth I expect the crowd to be with Liverpool for every second of the 90 minutes, hopefully it transfers to the players on the pitch and we perform to a level a title winning team should. If that performance comes to fruition, then Liverpool could be leaving Anfield with a very healthy victory.
Without Brooks and Wilson to worry about, Liverpool’s defence shouldn’t have too much to be concerned about meaning we will likely be camped in Bournemouth half for much of the game. If Salah and Firmino were to recapture their form, then scoring goals shouldn’t be a problem also.
I’m going bold with a 5-0 Liverpool win, with all of the front three getting on the scoresheet, hopefully come six o’clock on Saturday evening, Liverpool will be three points clear with a game in hand as Manchester City face a dodgy Chelsea side.
Final Score: Liverpool 5 (Mane x2, Keita, Salah Firmino) – 0 Bournemouth.