In a topsy-turvy afternoon of football, Liverpool beat Bournemouth 2-1 at Anfield.
Liverpool came from behind to gut out a big win, their first since edging out West Ham at home two weeks ago. It sounds ridiculous for a side that has won all but two league games this season but the Reds really did need a victory today. Two straight defeats to Watford and Chelsea (the latter in the FA Cup) had left Liverpool’s team suddenly looking very mortal – and with Atlético Madrid coming up in three days they really did need to right the ship ASAP.
What will give them heart is that Liverpool showed some impressive powers of recovery today even beyond breaking their losing streak. Coming into the game in poor form their resolve was tested even further as they conceded first. But Jurgen Klopp’s men didn’t panic, continued to play their usual game, equalised and eventually went ahead just after the half-hour mark. Then in the second-half they had more good chances to add to their lead, even striking the woodwork. So, all’s well that ends well, right?
Liverpool winning today was immaterial in terms of the Premier League title. Their lead over second-place Manchester City was a colossal 22 points even before kick-off so they were in no danger of throwing away the title. Their form has been so imperious that they have given themselves an almost comedic margin for error. They could lose their next three games and still have a double digit points lead!
No, today was all about preparation for Atlético Madrid. The win was only really important because it would restore some confidence ahead of the Round of 16 second-leg match. Liverpool will head into Wednesday night trailing 1-0 but fully believing in their powers of recovery (after all if they came back from 3-0 against Barcelona last season, they can certainly manage 1-0) and their chance to win the club’s first European Double since 1984 hinges on them turning that around.
So the result is much of a muchness, the performance was everything and there we saw a litany of flaws that Atlético Madrid will revel in. Firstly Bournemouth’s opening goal was a cavalcade of misery for Jurgen Klopp. First there was Callum Wilson out-muscling Joe Gomez in the air; it was probably a push, but the ref didn’t give it and Diego Simeone will now know that if they can set a baseline of aggression, it’s not likely that Liverpool will be able to keep up.
Even after the would-be foul, Liverpool’s defending was miserable. They failed to close on Wilson who held the ball for an eternity waiting for Philip Billing to catch up with play. Then when the Dane had the ball, everyone moved with his bodyswerve and Jefferson Lerma ran clean in behind to square for Wilson, who Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold had completely lost track of, to score.
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It was a disaster. As was the moment with an hour gone when a loose ball was chipped behind the defence by Billing. The fact that Liverpool had three men converging around Wilson but no one marking Wilson left the Dane plenty of time to play the pass. And of course Virgil van Dijk had pushed up too far and into the gap he left raced Ryan Fraser.
Now the Scot couldn’t finish the chance, getting too much air on his chip and allowing James Milner to get back and make a massive clearance – but the staggering openness of the Liverpool back line was a sight to behold. That wasn’t even the last sitter they gave up, as on 90 minutes the ball broke from a corner and Lewis Cook – again under absolutely no pressure, chipped it through to Nathan Aké. The defender squared it to Wilson who, for some reason, couldn’t get the ball out from under his feet and Liverpool got back to clear (Aké was later flagged offside but who knows what VAR would have made from it as would have been only by inches if he was).
Liverpool giving up these kinds of open looks at their goal is so uncharacteristic but it bodes terribly for Wednesday where even a single Atlético Madrid strike doubles Liverpool’s task as the Spaniards will have a massive away goal.
If Liverpool continue to give Atleti’s playmakers the kind of time and space they gave the Bournemouth boys (and the time they gave the Chelsea boys, and the Watford boys) then they will almost certainly be punished.
Even Liverpool’s goals (their first for two weeks) can’t really be trusted as a sign that they are back in business. Both goals came after Bournemouth captain Steve Cook went off injured, and it was Jack Simpson – the man who replaced him – that handed the Reds both goals with his absurdly adventurous play at centre-back.
The second goal was him running far forward and playing a timid pass that led to a quick turnover where he was then out of position, and the first? When he tried to dribble through Sadio Mané for some reason? That was absolutely atrocious defending and the kind of error you can’t see a Diego Simeone centre-back making.
Liverpool stopped the rot with today’s win, for sure, but the foundations of their side are still very shaky and vulnerable to being shattered by Atlético Madrid in the Champions League. Remember: a 2-1 win on Wednesday and they are out. The margins are that slim.