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Liverpool FC 2015/16, match 2: Liverpool - Bournemouth 1:0
The Starting XI and the Formation
On the back of a good start by winning 0:1 at Stoke, Liverpool imperatively needed another win ahead of the toughest patch of the season when the Premier League is concerned, this time against the newly promoted AFC Bournemouth at Anfield.
Showing his well-known persistence with his original ideas, manager Brendan Rodgers sent out the same eleven players as against Stoke City eight days earlier, lining them up in the same way, the same, defensively stable but attack-wise often inefficient 4-2-3-1. So, Simon Mignolet, Nathaniel Clyne, Joe Gomez, Martin Škrtel, Dejan Lovren, Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Jordon Ibe, Adam Lallana, Philip Coutinho and Christian Benteke took to the field once more, with Adam Bogdan, Kolo Toure, Alberto Moreno, Emre Can, Roberto Firmno, Divock Origi and Danny Ings waiting on the bench.
The second consecutive omission of Mamadou Sakho and Lazar Marković from the squad have raised a few eyebrows, and fueled speculations about potential departures of the pair this month. Lucas Leiva was also omitted again, amid reports of interest from several clubs across Europe, mostly in Italy, for the Brazilian defensive midfielder.
The First Half
The game started with an element of surprise for Liverpool, as well as for anyone watching, as AFC Bournemouth immediately conveyed that they hadn't come to defend. Lined up in a 4-4-2, they pressed the Liverpool back line from the starting whistle. Rodgers' side endured it mostly without much worries, but there came a real scare and a warning after only 5 minutes, when Bournemouth defender Tommy Elphick headed in after a corner. However, the referee was well placed, and rightly ruled that Elphick had committed a foul by leaning with both arms on Lovren's shoulders, holding him down.
From that moment on, the energy of the visitors slowly started waning, and Liverpool began to take control and push forward. The first serious moment for Artur Boruc in Bournemouth goal came in the 23rd minute, when Christian Benteke fired one from outside the box, and narrowly missed.
However, just three minutes later, Jordan Henderson put in a low cross into the six-yard box from the left, and Benteke pounced: 1:0. There was some controversy surrounding the goal, because Philip Coutinho was clearly offside, and went for the ball in front of Benteke. Although he didn't touch it, the visitors feel that he did enough to confuse Boruc and prevent him from coming across for it. Whether he did remains a matter of debate, but it seemed that Boruc wouldn't have managed to reach the ball even without Coutinho there. It simply had too much pace.
Be that as it may, the goal stood, and Liverpool were afterwards slowly increasing their dominance. The half-time break couldn't come soon enough for the Cherries, but it came.
The Second Half
After the break, the visitors charged forward again, and Liverpool were once more hard put to it. After 51 minutes, captain Jordan Henderson left the pitch with a foot injury. He received applause from the Anfield crowd, having done a lot of work directing the play and shown real leadership. He was replaced by Emre Can, who is expected by the manager to step into the defensive midfield role as soon as his fitness reaches a satisfactory level.
Meanwhile, as the game went on, Bournemouth were making themselves the ones controlling the game, and managed to create a few decent chances, with a couple of notable shots just wide from Matt Ritchie. On the other side, the Reds also created a few promising situations, with Philip Coutinho's shot getting blocked after some good work by Benteke. Towards the end, Coutinho made way for Alberto Moreno, and while this initially looked as a defense-strengthening move, Moreno actually went to play out on left flank of the attack, and didn't look out of place at all. He combined extremely well with Benteke.
With one minute of regular time on the clock, Roberto Firmino, having come on instead of Ibe, started a swift attack, passed short to Emre Can and continued his run into the box. The German chipped over the Bournemouth defense line to the right wing, where Clyne was making his run. The full-back then sent in a cross that flew over Firmino, but found Benteke who hit the crossbar, with the whole of Anfield sighing loudly. The visitors tried desperately to get forward during the added injury time, but nothing came of it. The final whistle blew: Liverpool - Bournemouth 1:0.
The Conclusion and Some Talking Points
The game provided Liverpool with another three points, taking them to the total of 6 out of 2 games, together with the two Manchester clubs and Leicester City. The famous 2013/14 season also started with two 1:0 wins for the Reds, so there's reason for the superstitious among the fans to be optimistic. The points are after all the most important part of the puzzle, so we can truthfully say it was a productive matchday for Liverpool.
But now the really hard work begins, with the next game being played at the Emirates, against Arsenal. The Gunners are deemed by many to be among the title contenders this season, although they started with mixed accomplishments, losing at home to West Ham in the first and having barely overcome Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park in the second game. Let's take a look at what awaits Liverpool in the next few away games:
White Heart Lane
Good news for Brendan Rodgers is that his new signings are looking good so far, with a strong feeling that they will only improve as the season moves on. Christian Benteke played a very good game against Bournemouth and started his goal-tally in a Liverpool shirt. Nathaniel Clyne is building on the foundations he had set during pre-season, James Milner as well. Joe Gomez is proving to be quite a revelation. Roberto Firmino is looking a bit rusty, but he's also showing class.
Other players are looking good as well. Henderson, Coutinho, Can, Ibe, Lovren, all of them give out a really positive impression and are a just cause for optimism. Adam Lallana and Martin Škrtel are really the only ones who aren't meeting expectations, and should this continue, they could find themselves warming the bench, especially Lallana, as Firmino slowly progresses towards full fitness.
Rodgers himself is continuing to worry the fans, with his refusal to start a game with a different formation, however impotent the 4-2-3-1 seems at times. Also, many criticize him for choosing Lovren over Sakho, but the Croat is justifying the trust put into him so far.
The visitors, AFC Bournemouth, displayed real bravery and considerable team quality. However, the impression is that manager Eddie Howe will need to make some tactical tinkerings if he intends to stay in the Premier League after the season ends. It was very visible that Bournemouth players are used to controlling the game and enjoying possession, having previously played in the Championship. They'll need to adjust to playing against better teams and fast in order to stand a chance of survival.
To sum things up, it was another hard-working Liverpool performance against an unexpectedly tough side, another win and another three points. One more step forward. Will the Reds be able to continue their march against stronger opposition? We'll soon find out. Stay tuned.