Two years and four days ago, when Liverpool travelled to the Vitality stadium to play Bournemouth, they were in the second position, had won 9 out of 13 games and had just lost a single game. More importantly, they were just one point off the league leaders of the time – Chelsea. And Liverpool needed to win at Bournemouth for them to maintain the pressure on the Blues from London. Till the 75th minute in that game, it indeed seemed that the Reds had been successful in their mission. They had scored three goals and had conceded just one. But, in the next 17 minutes, Liverpool managed to leak three goals and went home having snatched a loss from the jaws of victory. That result opened up a four-point gap with Chelsea which the Reds were never able to bridge. The stakes were similar today, as once more Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool travelled to Bournemouth to try and keep up with the league leaders – another set of Blues – this time from Manchester. But Mohamed Salah’s brilliance meant that history was not meant to repeat, and Liverpool go back home with a much-deserved win, as well as league leaders for possibly a brief period of time.
After beginning the season brilliantly, Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth have been in a rut of sorts for the last few games. Nobody expected them to be seventh and above Manchester United after 15 game weeks and that is exactly where they found themselves when the 16th game week kicked off, despite the Cherries losing four out of their last five games. In the first half of the game today, it seemed that Bournemouth were able to bring to fore the side that was fifth in the league in terms of xG and sixth in terms of goals scored. But their attacking intent got a shock when a slightly offside Mohamed Salah scored his first goal of the game in the 25th minute. They still continued to challenge the visitors throughout the first half. But, in the second half, Bournemouth gave the initiative to Liverpool, who took it by the scruff. Liverpool attacked with regularity and Bournemouth allowed them to reap results regularly. In fact, after notching up an xG of 0.2 in the first half before the first goal, Bournemouth added xG of mere 0.08 goals in the rest of the 65 minutes.
Liverpool travelled to Vitality under the strain of fixture congestion and with a team that has certain extremely overused players. They needed to win to either keep up with Manchester City or to take advantage if City drop points against Chelsea later tonight. Even with some makeshift arrangements (Milner at right-back), Liverpool started the game with attacking intent and had an xG of 0.6 by the time the first goal was scored. But the real floodgates opened after the second half began as Mohamed Salah showed the form he has missed this season so far and he seemed unstoppable. For his and Liverpool’s second goal, he overcame a clip on the heel, while his third came from a break initiated by the substituted Adam Lallana. That last goal reminded Liverpool fans of the Salah that had gone missing till now in the season. Not only did Salah show his pace to leave the Cherries’ defence behind, but he also showed the presence of mind to make sure he had the biggest chance (open play, xG of 0.95) to tap into the goal. In between, a brilliant cross from Robertson was turned in his own net by Steve Cook.
Bournemouth could not find a way to go past or beyond Liverpool’s defence. The few times they managed that, they were thwarted by a punching and catching Alisson. Bournemouth’s shot-based xG was 0.3 and non-shot xG was 0.8. Liverpool allowed the Cherries only two shots from inside their box and the combined xG for those two shots was mere 0.13. As mentioned above, Bournemouth left behind all their attacking intent by the start of the second half.
On the other hand, Liverpool’s average goal attempts per game prior to their visit to the Vitality stadium was 14.8 goal attempts per game, of which about 5.6 were on target, i.e. 37.7%, of which 2 were successful (13.4% goal success per shot). Today, Liverpool took fewer shots – 10, of which only four were on target and they managed to score from three of those shots. xG stats suggest that Liverpool converted a few unlikely shots into goals. Liverpool’s xG is rated around 1.7-1.81 today but they managed to score 4 (or at least 3 from shots). Their non-shot based xG, i.e. the attacking play around Bournemouth’s box was 2.2, so in reality, they outperformed that as well.
Liverpool’s defence continues to shine even when some of the regular members of the defence are absent. Today, both Trent and Gomez were missing but their absence was not felt to a large extent. Alisson was not called upon many times and ended up with the 14th clean sheet of the season. Liverpool conceded more crosses from both the flanks put together (17 vs 14) but they conceded only two chances from those crosses. There were no chances for Bournemouth through the center. These stats underline the importance of Virgil van Dijk as well.
Bournemouth’s defence had a harrowing time in trying to contain a returning to form Liverpool attack. Both Firmino and Salah had the movement that could harass any defender. To add to that, Naby Keita and Shaqiri were also probing constantly. So, it is no surprise that just from 14 Liverpool crosses, Bournemouth managed to give 6 chances. On top of that, they lost possession more (13 vs 6) and committed more errors – like the Steve Cook own goal.
So, Liverpool did not let the history repeat itself today. They ensured that they try and take maximum benefit if Manchester City slip against Chelsea tonight. Reds fans will hope that they can build some momentum from today’s high-scoring win and score as well against Napoli and Manchester United – their next two opponents.
Bournemouth can afford to treat today as an aberration against a top side and address the trends that have had them slipping in recent game weeks. They have given themselves a great platform to continue in the Premier League for a few more seasons and today’s result should not stop them from doing so. They just ran into a more talented team with a bigger purpose.