Liverpool 1 Clyne 17'
Goals! Clean sheets! Winning! Excitement! Yes, friends, Liverpool scored a goal and then didn't immediately concede an equalizer. In fact, they held on to their clean sheet for the full ninety minutes, leading to a win and advancement in the Capital One Cup.
Jürgen Klopp rang the changes for the mid-week game, and rightly so, as several players were showing signs of wear after three matches in eight days. Injuries at striker and lack of depth at fullback meant Divock Origi and Nathaniel Clyne remained in the XI, but every other player was changed from the game against Southampton, with competitive debuts handed to 20-year-old Conor Randall and 19-year-old Cameron Brannagan. There was also a return to the first team for João Carlos Teixeira, who pressed on from midfield regularly to join Roberto Firmino, Jordon Ibe, and Origi in the attack. Kolo Toure and Dejan Lovren were the center-backs of choice in front of Adam Bogdan in goal.
The tone was set early for Liverpool by Firmino, closing down the opponent like a madman and pulling a shot wide after just 10 seconds, setting the standard for a high-octane performance that would only miss that finishing touch. The high press got overplayed minutes later, and Bournemouth found themselves with a great chance from 15 yards, but were unable to take advantage, the shot blocked in the end.
After a cagey opening 15 minutes, the home side took the lead through a surprisingly energetic Clyne. Divock Origi turned and skinned Sylvain Distin down the right wing, then cut it back for Firmino, who expertly played in Teixeira with a deft touch. Adam Smith then showed terribly bad form, clearing the Portuguese starlet's cheeky back heel finish off the line, but Clyne was there to cooly slot home the rebound. It was a gorgeous attack with penetration and precision, and the goal was well-earned.
The Reds did their best to give up their customary equalizer minutes later, as a slip from Randall gave Junior Stanislas the opportunity to head on goal from 4 yards, but Bogdan made a strong save at his near post, keeping the home side in front. If the hosts were fortunate then, they weren't soon after when Kolo Toure found himself the latest addition to Liverpool's lengthy injury list, forced to leave the pitch with a hamstring problem and replaced by Martin Skrtel.
Despite the enforced change, Liverpool closed out the half on the front foot. The second half, though, started slowly, only coming to life when Firmino intercepted a pass deep in Bournemouth's half and drove at goal. Unfortunately for the attacker, he hooked his shot a yard wide of the post. Five minutes later Lucas came on for Brannigan, and with that move Liverpool took complete control of proceedings. The visitors were barely allowed inside the home side's half, and the hosts put together a string of chances that easily could have resulted in another goal: Randall and Ibe combined excellently only for the flat cross to be cleared right in front of Origi, Lucas tested Adam Federici with a belter from 25 yards, Teixeira did the same with a free kick from 20, and a Lucas and Origi counter nearly counted as the Brazilian's cross missed the Belgian by mere inches two yards out.
Bournemouth had one good chance to level the match as it entered injury time, but Bogdan was again on hand when needed, securing Liverpool's advancement.
All told, it was another improved performance from Liverpool, something all the more remarkable for the fact that Firmino and Clyne notwithstanding, it was a full B-side against Premier League opposition. The pressing forced the visitors into numerous mistakes and restricted their chances to a tiny handful. On offense, both fullbacks were involved high up the pitch, best illustrated by Clyne finding himself as the most forward player on a rebound and netting the winner. This opened up play for the home side, allowing them to combine more effectively than they have at almost any point over the past 16 months.
Roberto Firmino was the clear man of the match, displaying deft touches, vision, effective dribbling, and a boundless will to close down and harry opponents. Adam Bogdan made a handful of solid saves when called upon and looked assertive in his area. Nathaniel Clyne put in a surprisingly energetic performance at the left side of defense after a few off performances, capping it with a goal, while Jordon Ibe had his best outing so far this season
Of the youths, Teixeira more than the others showed that he is definitely ready for more first team football in the coming weeks, even if he faded somewhat in the second half. Randall had a tough night in the first half, but was much improved in the second, while Brannagan put in a decent in somewhat anonymous performance in the middle.
Origi, on the other hand, was better but still not as sharp as you'd like your only striker to be, doing his best work when coming deep or wide rather than when he stayed high and tried to lead the line. Lovren had a solid defensive game, even if a few nervy moments and his distribution left something to be desired, while Joe Allen didn't do much to stand out, and the stark difference in proficiency at the deep midfield role was made abundantly clear when Lucas came on and shut the midfield down with a veteran's performance.
Injuries continue to be a concern, as does burnout for players at positions with little depth, but this match seemed another step in the right direction for Jürgen Klopp and his charges, as the high-intensity press was for the first time joined by coherent attacking movement and an understanding of what to do with the ball in transitions and on offense. And now, Chelsea looms.