It was always going to happen again at some point, but this was not how most Liverpool supporters envisioned the club’s first loss in the league since that match away at Burnley. There were, however, some faint echoes of that gut punch from back in August: the fact that Liverpool comfortably controlled proceedings for long spells, especially in the first half of this match. The way the resistance seemed to crumble any time the hosts saw fit to mount a serious assault on Karius’ goal. And the shirts, again those damn luminous green shirts.
Still, things started off well enough. Liverpool entered
Dean Court Vitality Stadium on the back of fifteen matches without a loss in the league, and with Bournemouth having never beaten Liverpool in this competition. Jürgen Klopp’s side are still adjusting to life without Philippe Coutinho, but Roberto Firmino was fit enough to start and Adam Lallana managed to find a spot on the bench. Up front, Divock Origi would look to continue his recent goalscoring run, while at the back, Lucas Leiva was called in as a late replacement for Joël Matip.
Despite the changes, there was still enough talent and experience on the pitch that one would reasonably have expected the visitors to dictate play. And so they did from the outset, probing with crosses from the left in the early opening phases. In the tenth minute, quick thinking from Jordan Henderson after seizing on a recovered ball allowed Liverpool to unleash Nathaniel Clyne on the right, whose low cross evaded all defenders. Origi had a perfect opportunity to open his account on the day, but got his feet tangled beneath him and couldn’t prod the ball home from close range.
The early pressure from Liverpool went unrewarded. A series of consecutive corners were taken by Henderson, to no real effect or danger. At this stage the visitors were firmly encamped in Bournemouth’s third of the pitch, but all too often the men in, er , green found themselves receiving the ball with their backs to goal and a phalanx of Bournemouth defenders holding firm. If Liverpool were to find a breakthrough, one sensed it would be from catching the hosts on the break.
Sure enough, the opener arrived with minimal fuss and interplay. Emre Can, on the left, floated a ball in the general direction of Sadio Mané, who found himself in a footrace with just Nathan Aké to beat. Mané, whose touch let him down on a number of occasions today, powered past the defender and the late-arriving Artur Boruc, and diverted the ball into the net. Goal Liverpool.
Bournemouth responded strongly, but found themselves two goals behind mere moments later. Once again, from a promising attack, Bournemouth gifted possession back to Liverpool, and this time Henderson connected with Origi racing out on the right. Boruc chased when he perhaps should not have, and from the most improbable of angles, Origi curled the ball into an empty goal past a helpless Cook. Two goals to the good and Liverpool appeared to be in control.
As is all-too-often the case, the visitors appeared to ease off on the pressure, and allowed Bournemouth to reassert their presence in the match. Josh King and Callum Wilson running at Liverpool’s second-choice midfield and reconfigured central defense managed to produce several moments of disquiet. For their part, Klopp’s players opted to test Bournemouth’s willingness to track back by teasing lofted balls towards Origi while Mané and Firmino chased. It was a state of affairs that settled into détente at half time, despite the home side having a penalty call refused by the referee.
Following the break, Jordon Ibe was introduced for Josh King, but the turn of the tide accompanied a second substitution by the hosts, when Ryan Fraser was called upon to replaced the injured Junior Stanislas. Almost immediately, Fraser was able to raise the tempo of his side’s play, and elicited a clumsy challenge from Milner in the box. No complaints as the referee pointed to the spot, and following Wilson’s conversion, Bournemouth were very much back in the contest.
In other times, this might have been the signal for a full-on capitulation by Liverpool. The fact that they were able to restore their two-goal advantage before deciding to capitulate will come as a bitter novelty to supporters. Mané, who had endured a so-so afternoon, danced around and past three defenders on the right before rolling the ball into the space vacated in front of Can. The German midfielder gladly opened fire with an unstoppable shot past Boruc, and for a time, it appeared the points were in the bag for the Merseysiders.
Not so, said Bournemouth. After Lallana came on for an ailing Mané - another worrying sign - and even after a scare for Vitality Stadium when Boruc appeared to collect a cross with the ball past the goal line, the hosts refused to surrender. In quick succession, lost possession by careless Liverpool forwards allowed Bournemouth to break at speed. For the Cherries’ second, Lovren raced to cover but could not prevent the cutback from reaching the effervescent Fraser, who promptly cut the deficit to one. Inevitably, more frantic defending allowed Cook to equalize mere minutes later.
At this point, the only question was whether or not Liverpool would escape with a point or come away empty-handed. It turned out to be the latter. A long distance shot was spilled by Karius just in front of the goalmouth, where a grateful Aké prodded home to make amends for having been beaten by Mané earlier.
“These things happen,” as the boss said afterwards. If Liverpool are to mount a real title challenge, to say nothing of holding on to a Champions League spot, these things will have to happen a lot less frequently.