When Liverpool last visited the Vitality Stadium – a little more than a year ago – they were flying high. They were strong title contenders and were scoring goals for fun. This season, however, as they prepare for a visit to Vitality on Sunday evening, it would be fair to say that the Reds have had multiple disappointments already. Jurgen Klopp has had to recalibrate targets and rotation plans as his team has gathered six fewer points than they did at this stage last season.
Bournemouth themselves are a bit out of sorts compared to their performances last season. The Cherries are five points and six positions worse off as compared to last season. They played well during the mid-week game at Old Trafford but eventually lost out to Jose Mourinho’s tactics. But despite their current form – winless in last five – Eddie Howe will take heart from their record against Liverpool last season. The Cherries took five points off the Reds over the two league games. After a terrible start to the league – they did not win their first point in the league till GW5 – Eddie Howe’s side has picked up a bit defeating the three promoted sides and Stoke City, while drawing four games. Howe must be hoping that his side can surprise Liverpool a bit and yet again capture a few points against the team.
Liverpool come into this match on the back of two of the aforementioned disappointments. As if drawing against a spineless Everton side at home was not enough, Liverpool also drew their mid-week game against West Brom. Wins in both those games would have consolidated the Reds’ position in the competition for the Top 4. But instead, they drew – not once but twice. This resulted in Liverpool slipping to fifth behind Tottenham – albeit on points. Now to get back into the top four, the Reds need to win the easily winnable fixtures in this tightly packed schedule. This Sunday’s game qualifies for that category of winnable games. However, the usual fixture congestion along with Champions League football means that Klopp has to rotate his squad much more than last season. This rotation has caused the Reds to lose their attacking edge a bit, resulting in the draws like the ones against Everton and West Brom. Thus, it is possible that the Reds find Sunday’s game a bit tougher than what they would have expected.
As several Cherry players had to be treated during the game at Old Trafford, Eddie Howe might shuffle his pack around a bit. Steve Cook, Jermain Defoe, Jordon Ibe, and Andrew Surman, all will be looking to feature on Sunday. But Howe could be without Tyron Mings and Adam Federici who are still recovering from their back problems.
Jurgen Klopp has been far more proactive in rotating his squad this season but given the last two results, his hand might be forced on Sunday. He might have to again start with the full force of the Reds’ attack, including Mane, Firmino, Salah and Coutinho. Simon Mignolet should make a return between the sticks, while Adam Lallana and Sturridge – both could make an appearance. Joel Matip remains sidelined with injury, while Emre Can is suspended for this one game.
- Last season’s brilliant second-half turnaround that saw the Cherries win 4-3 at the Vitality Stadium is Bournemouth’s lone victory against the Reds. They have drawn three and lost seven matches to Liverpool.
- Bournemouth are winless in their last five Premier League games (D3, L2). They have also claimed the second-lowest number of home points this season – eight, one more than Swansea. The Cherries are also extra-vulnerable when facing teams from the top-half this season. From a total of 27 points against the other top sides, they have picked up only a single point.
- Liverpool are unbeaten in eight matches in the Premier League (W5, D3), which is their best run since an 11-match streak ended in November 2016. Of their last 22 league matches against teams that do not come under the Big Six, Liverpool have lost only one, winning 14 and drawing 7.
- Having scored 18 goals in all competitions this season, Mohamed Salah is likely to become the first player since Suarez and Sturridge in 2013-14 to score 20 goals for Liverpool.
Josh King was the primary attacking force for Bournemouth last season. While this season, he has not hit the same form that saw him score 16 goals in the entire last season but with 2 goals and 1 assist thus far in the season, he has not been completely quiet either. King’s pace can be a mighty weapon against the faltering Reds’ defense. Between xG per 90 and xA per 90, King has a 26% chance of contributing a goal every 90 minutes. While it is much lesser than some of the attackers that have played against Lovren and company, Liverpool’s defense is notoriously bad and King will be raring to have a go against them.
Roberto Firmino with his 5 goals and 2 assists thus far in the league is one of the main threats that Liverpool’s great attack carries. In all competitions he has scored 11 and assisted 5, which gives a true measure of the level of threat carried by the Brazilian. When he is in form, even if he does not score or assist a goal, he is instrumental in drawing opponents’ defenders out of position in attack, and is one of the quickest to press to recover the ball as soon as it is lost. These traits added to a 60% chance of goal contribution from Firmino makes him the player to watch out for on Sunday.
If Bournemouth were coached by someone like Sam Allardyce or Alan Pardew, a low-scoring draw might have been the most expected result. But, since Eddie Howe is proud of the attacking football his side plays, the Cherries are likely to give Liverpool many more chances than Everton or West Brom did. This is the reason why a narrow Liverpool win is the most likely result on Sunday. With tired legs the win might not be a rampant one but Klopp will be happy to shore up three points irrespective of the margin of victory.