Bolton 1: Klasnic 90'
With only one change from the side that started at the Emirates last weekend---Luis Suarez in for Andy Carroll---Kenny Dalglish signaled his intentions for consistency after enduring a half-season fraught with injuries. The back line finally had a reliable left back in Jose Enrique and was anchored by the solid partnership of Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger in the middle, with the impressive and fully-fit Martin Kelly on the right. The rest of the front six was business as usual save for the Suarez---Carroll swap, with Lucas and Charlie Adam deeper in midfield, and a supporting three of Kuyt, Henderson, and Downing off the Uruguayan. As the match played out we saw plenty of turnover at the top, with each of the front four finding their way throughout the forward areas.
And as we saw against Sunderland two weeks ago, it was a confident opening from the hosts, who were unlucky to not have a goal within the opening ten minutes. The best chance came on a break from a Bolton corner, with Lee Probert playing the advantage after a foul at midfield on Luis Suarez. Jordan Henderson found a streaking Stewart Downing, whose final touch spoiled what could have otherwise been his first Liverpool goal.
But just like the season opener, Liverpool would take the lead shortly after a great chance went begging. Suarez started the goalscoring move in possession on the left, playing in a terrific ball with the outside of his foot to Stewart Downing. His first-time shot was saved well by Jussi Jaaskelainen, who parried as far as Dirk Kuyt on the right side of goal. The Dutchman found Henderson on the edge of the area, and after the summer signing's first shot was blocked, he gathered, worked his way left, and curled one past Jaaskelainen into the far corner for a terrific opener.
It wasn't all Liverpool from there, though, as Bolton started to work their way into the match after conceding the opener. Their period of pressure eventually gave way, and Liverpool resumed normal service for most of the first half. Chances went begging for nearly everyone who found their way forward, including Luis Suarez, who tried to chip Jaaskelainen in a one-on-one and could only find the roof of the net. Martin Kelly re-injuring his hamstring and the lack of chances taken were really the only frustrations during what was otherwise a very impressive first half effort.
Slightly concerning, then, that Liverpool would repeat their opening day struggles, punished by the lack of chances taken and an opportunistic away side. Anxieties were washed away nearly straightway, though, with Suarez drawing what should have been a foul on Zat Knight and then delivering a dangerous ball across goal that was cleared away by Gary Cahill. Neither move led to a goal, but the intent was a vast departure from the second half display we saw two weeks ago.
The hosts would be rewarded for their pressure in rapid succession, with Martin Skrtel, who had come on for Martin Kelly, arrowing home a Charlie Adam corner just a minute before Adam got one of his own, a right-footed effort just outside the box that left Jaaskelainen wrong-footed. The sense was that Skrtel's header gave some breathing room, and Adam's killed the match for good. Liverpool's pressure continued, but they couldn't add a fourth, foiled on a number of occasions by Lee Probert, and the guests would get their consolation through Ivan Klasnic after Jamie Carragher failed to clear twice.
It was a much more comprehensive performance from Liverpool than we've seen in their first three matches---today you got the sense that nearly everyone was on the same page, and there wasn't an expiration date on their effort. Even after Kelly came off, the back line was again impressive, and the fluidity and understanding that's developing in the forward areas is, at times, breathtaking.
Given the context, the most impressive on the day was Jordan Henderson. He interchanged effectively with the rest of the front four, provided excellent service, and was patient and confident in the face of mounting criticism that he was a bust before his Liverpool career had really started. The goal was a deserved reward for the performance, as was the reception he received after being taken off for Maxi late in the second half.
There's no surprises about who else deserves picking out---Luis Suarez was unplayable at times while still working his way to top form, Dirk Kuyt worked his way into dangerous positions on more than one occasion and linked well in attack, and Stewart Downing turned in another high-level performance despite not yet getting on the score sheet. Lucas and Charlie Adam were effective in central midfield again; the former had a terrific first half and was one of the day's top performers even after picking up a knock late in the first half. As hoped for, Adam was much more consistent in between some jaw-dropping deliveries from open play and dead ball situations.
And aside from the error just before the death, the back line was again solid, with Skrtel deputizing effectively at right back and
Luis Jose Enrique continuing his excellent form on the left. With Kelly injured, though, we're back to the days of concern about personnel. Without Jon Flanagan in the squad, Skrtel was the only choice to fill the role, and next in line was Jack Robinson. Enrique's presence has gone a long way towards assuaging the panic about depth, but there's still not very much separating the kids from being pushed into first team action yet again.
But today's not a day for worrying too much---Liverpool were rampant for most of the afternoon, and they've got the look of a side would could be very, very good.