Coutinho 20’, Lovren 26’, Salah 44’, Firmino 66’
Just as it was a year ago, the winning side in this matchup netted four goals. This time, however, it was the visitors who came away with all the points. And unlike last year, Liverpool never looked like they were going to collapse the same way they did on that night when Nathan Ake capped a miserable evening for the Reds with an injury time winner for Bournemouth.
Could things have turned out differently if Jermain Defoe had converted a golden opportunity for the hosts in the 40th minute, instead of rocketing his shot off the post? Perhaps, but this was a match in which Bournemouth were seemingly playing catchup from the opening whistle. Even without Sadio Mané in the starting lineup, Liverpool looked full of threat almost every time they pushed forward, thanks in no small part to the mercurial Mohamed Salah, who added another page to his storybook opening season for the Reds.
The Egyptian has been a revelation this year, and when things are clicking for Liverpool’s forward three, he can be almost unstoppable. Bournemouth’s Charlie Daniels started well in a high tempo first half, as Jordan Henderson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain tested the fullback’s alertness at every opportunity with through balls and passes over the top . For the first quarter of an hour, Daniels was up to challenge, doing just enough to get to the ball ahead of Salah.
Elsewhere, the cracks were beginning to show, but could Liverpool capitalize? Following a Liverpool interception, Ake clumsily clipped the heels of Roberto Firmino from behind when the Brazilian looked to have acres of real estate ahead of him. The Bournemouth defender was booked for his trouble, and was immensely fortunate not to have his misery compounded with a Liverpool goal. Coutinho stepped up to take the free kick, and his curling effort left Asmir Begović flailing, but the ball also found too much of the woodwork.
Coutinho would soon have his revenge on the woodwork. Receiving the ball on the left, the Brazilian danced forward, with Andy Robertson making a vital run to cause just enough uncertainty in the trio of Bournemouth defenders hoping to stop further progress. Coutinho took advantage of the hesitation to casually skip past the group before carefully placing his shot past an outstretched Begović. It was an advantage that was deserved - the question was now whether Liverpool could build on it before Bournemouth inevitably made their push?
As it turns out, Liverpool did not have to wait long for their second. Minutes after Coutinho had opened the Reds account, Henderson was allowed to gallop into the box unchallenged after a neat one-two on the edge of the area. The captain’s low cross was eventually bundled out of play, but from the ensuing corner, Firmino’s determination allowed him to rescue a deflection that was arcing out for a goal kick, and as the ball slowly tumbled back down, Dejan Lovren turned himself into a human torpedo to head home. Liverpool were now two goals up.
The hosts had the chance to halve that advantage not long after, but Defoe’s effort could only find the post after Bournemouth had unlocked the Liverpool back line. That miss would turn out to be a sign that this would not be the day for Eddie Howe’s side. Bournemouth pushed forward gamely in the dying phases of the first half, energized by the quick thinking and movement of Junior Stanislas - who had only come on as a replacement for the ailing Josh King.
It was Liverpool’s turn to briefly look off the pace, and the back line briefly struggled to keep track of Bournemouth’s forwards. This was a critical juncture in the match - instead of narrowing Liverpool’s lead, Bournemouth found themselves three goals down going into the half. It was Salah with the third. Time and time again, the winger had cut in from the right to shoot with his left foot, and somehow, Bournemouth survived. Almost on the stroke of halftime, Salah found his range, racing into the box after having been set free by Oxlade-Chamberlain, and running rings around Daniels before beating Begović.
Last year, Ryan Fraser’s second half introduction was the beginning of Liverpool’s unraveling, so it was perhaps not surprising to see Howe bring Fraser on at the restart of this match. And Fraser did provide a spark to a Bournemouth side that was looking for a miraculous repeat of last year’s feat - the winger found himself in an excellent position to test Mignolet after Bournemouth had caught Liverpool’s back line napping, but his shot only found the side netting.
From that point, the home crowd’s hopes for another memorable comeback started to quickly evaporate. Twenty minutes into the second half, Liverpool had their fourth goal, with Firmino getting into the action this time. Robertson, who continually found opportunities to range forward in this contest, worked the ball to Coutinho on the left, and the No. 10’s quick cross into the box was perfectly placed for his compatriot to redirect the ball into the net with his head.
With a four goal advantage, Jürgen Klopp finally allowed himself to make some substitutions. In the final phases of the match, Salah, Firmino and Coutinho made way for Adam Lallana, Dominic Solanke, and Danny Ings respectively. Lallana and Ings were both full of running, unsurprisingly, while also exhibiting some clear rust on their passing and shooting. A visit to the Emirates is next for Liverpool, and will Mané be on the pitch to repeat his heroics against Arsenal? Stay tuned.