Liverpool 1 Benteke 26'
Most of the talk pre-match was of Brendan Rodgers deploying the same 18 as against Stoke, and no Lucas or Sakho in sight, despite the rather tame performance Coutinho pulled out of the fire a week ago. Fans were sceptical and the first 15 minutes of the match did nothing to allay those fears. Bournemouth came storming out of the gates, aggressively harrying and pressing Liverpool's players on every occasion, preventing the home side from putting together any meaningful play. When they won the ball, they moved the ball quickly to their pacy front man Callum Wilson, seemingly targeting Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren. The visitors had three corners in the first four minutes, the second of which was headed home by captain Tommy Elphick, then subsequently chalked off for pulling down Dejan Lovren. It looked a little soft, and Rodgers' disciples could count themselves lucky not to be down a goal.
The intensity of Bournemouth's pressure couldn't last, and they soon dropped deeper, allowing the home side more time on the ball. The 4-2-3-1 looked a little more balanced this time around, with Jordon Ibe left, Adam Lallana central and Philippe Coutinho nominally right, but drifting all over the place, Nathaniel Clyne providing all the width needed on that side. Coutinho would drop deeper than the double pivot at times, and at others pop up near Benteke when the big man won an aerial duel. James Milner and Jordan Henderson had more defined roles than at the Britannia, the captain staying relatively deep in a holding role, with the vice captain getting forward.
The first proper piece of play Liverpool put together would lead to the only goal of the game. Henderson, Lallana and Benteke pushed forward, occupying the defensive line, allowing Coutinho to thread Ibe through on the left. His low cross was blocked for a corner, which Henderson played to Clyne, got the ball back and sent in a wonderful swerving cross for Benteke to tap home at the far post. Even if he didn't touch the ball, Coutinho was clearly offside and involving himself in the play, and the away side can rightly feel aggrieved the linesman didn't put his flag up.
Only minutes later, a clever set piece variant from Milner led to Jordan Henderson sending a dipping, swerving shot off the top of the crossbar from 20 yards out. The two combined again on another set piece where Anfield cried out for a penalty, but Henderson slid back to his feet and kept playing, and rightly so, as going down would've likely been grounds for a booking. Just before half time, Coutinho missed a glorious opportunity after a rebounded pass fell to him, but his left footed curler slid yards wide.
Despite the initial hustle and disallowed goal, Liverpool were relatively comfortable, Bournemouth only registering a single shot in the first half.
Henderson came off for Emre Can five minutes into the second half, reportedly with an ankle injury, and Milner missed a good opportunity after some great pressing from Benteke. The formation changed to a 4-3-3 on offense, with Can in the deeper role and Lallana in central midfield, and morphed into a 4-4-1-1 once Bournemouth got past midfield, as Coutinho would stay high up the pitch and Milner would cover the right side.
What followed was a spell of dominance from the away side, recording a shot off the post and one in the side netting after Lovren was nutmegged in the box. The hosts struggled to hold on to the ball for more than a few passes at a time, even after Roberto Firmino was brought on for Ibe. Benteke had a great run and pass for Coutinho, whose shot was sensationally blocked over. Bournemouth started to run out of energy, and Liverpool had a big chance late, as Clyne was expertly played into space on the right by Can, and his inch-perfect cross was scuffed off the crossbar by Benteke.
Questions will rightly be asked of Brendan Rodgers' decision to leave Sakho and Lucas out of the squad entirely, as well as the attacking play continuing to stutter. The fact of the matter is that Liverpool were dependent on an offside goal and a soft foul to avoid a home defeat to a newly promoted side, balance of play notwithstanding. Both Lallana and Ibe had poor games, with the former trying to do too much and the latter hardly getting involved at all. The way the team lost coherence without its captain was disconcerting, and Can again showed that he hasn't quite figured out the holding midfield role, losing his man and getting skinned on several occasions.
On the plus side, Bournemouth were kept from creating any chances of note, the formation looked more balanced than last week, and Benteke was more involved and better supported. The new striker getting off the mark and looking dangerous is undoubtedly a positive. Henderson was absolutely dominant for the 50 minutes he played, and is clearly relishing the role of captain. Mignolet did what he had to do very well. Moreno looked energetic and dangerous when he came on, and the back four in general had a solid game, with Clyne absolutely locking down the right side. And of course, another 3 points and another clean sheet will look good at the end of the season.
Now, onto a week of anxiety for next week's clash with Arsenal at the Emirates.