Friday, July 19, 2024

Bournemouth 1-0 Liverpool: Talking points as relegation battlers halt revival of top-four contenders

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For the last couple of weeks, Liverpool truly looked like they might be getting closer to the level of previous seasons, having gone on a five-game unbeaten run in which they only once failed to win. The feeling expanded greatly after their 7-0 thrashing of arch-rivals Manchester United last week. However, Bournemouth put a stop to their joy at the Vitality on Saturday, courtesy of a solitary strike by Philip Billing.

The game

The worst thing, apart from the three potentially crucial points that got away from Jurgen Klopp’s team, is the fact that not one of the players played well. It was poor throughout, from Alisson Becker in goal who didn’t look comfortable on several occasions, to Mohamed Salah upfront who missed the first penalty awarded to his team this season. Nothing went right for Liverpool.

The only period when it seemed Liverpool would likely record a routine victory against a struggling side was the opening 10 to 15 minutes. That’s when they looked comfortable, holding the ball most of the time in Bournemouth’s half and forcing the hosts to defend with everything they had, time and again. Virgil van Dijk threatened a couple of times from corners and Bournemouth goalkeeper Neto made a fine save to deny Andy Robertson, but that was about as close his team came to breaking the deadlock. They did put the ball in the Bournemouth net in the 13th minute, but the goal was ruled out straight away as the linesman rightly raised his flag to signal that Cody Gakpo, the would-be scorer, was offside.

At that point, the Cherries started bucking the pressure off and breathing more easily, making the visitors’ attacks less dangerous with each turn of play.

An occasional counterattack at the other end an Liverpool’s inability to deal with such dangers properly obviously announced the way the contest was going to be settled. Dango Outtara offered a proper glimpse of it in the 22nd minute when he burst forward, broke through Liverpool’s last line and rounded Alisson, only to hit the outside of the net from a tight angle.

But six minutes later, he made no such mistake. The Cherries’ winger was released by a long pass from right-back Adam Smith, and off he went. There was a hint of possibility of another offside, but Outtara had timed his run perfectly (as the VAR later confirmed), broke down the right flank, ran past an unusually slow Van Dijk, and pulled a low cross back into the box. Ibrahima Konate, who had actually played Outtara onside in the buildup, failed to clear it and Billing latched on to score quite easily from six yards.

Setbacks like that happen to great teams, but great teams are usually marked by their ability to rally and hit back with unstoppable force. Liverpool simply weren’t a great team on the day. They appeared to have lost their compass; their attacks, though still frequent, became too blunt to cause any serious problem for Gary O’Neil’s men and their resolute defending.

And as Klopp refreshed his ranks in the second half and tried to strengthen the attacking line with the introductions of Diogo Jota, James Milner, Roberto Firmino, Jordan Henderson and Fabio Carvalho, O’Neil responded by pulling Billing out and sending defender Ryan Christie on instead to switch the system from a 4-4-1-1 to a very compact 5-4-1, defending every situation with 10 players ahead of their goalkeeper.

The penalty

As has been said, Liverpool had not been given a penalty at all this season before this match, even though there were situations when the officials, the referee and the VAR too, made extremely dubious calls not to show to the spot; most notably in the 3-2 defeat away to Arsenal early in the season.

Referee John Brooks did not give a penalty straight away in this match either, even though Jota’s close range header appeared to have been deflected off the target by the raised arm of Smith. The VAR reacted this time and Brooks was sent to the pitch side screen, whence he returned gesturing the VAR sign, blowing his whistle and pointing to the spot.

There can’t really be any doubt about the decision. Whether Smith meant it or not, the arm was high in the air and the ball, which was directed goalwards, was deflected off its course by the elbow.

But as it happened, none of it mattered. Salah stepped up and blasted his shot about a yard away from the top corner, making the Vitality explode with sudden joy that only a missed penalty from a rival can bring.

There was around 20 minutes left on the clock, but from that point on, it looked as if the game could last for a week and Liverpool still wouldn’t score.

Table rankings

These most welcome three points have moved Bournemouth out of the relegation zone, which is obviously where they want to be, at least for 24 hours, as two of the three teams sitting lower than their 17th place – West Ham and Southampton – play their respective matches on Sunday. Leicester City in 16th have the same tally as the Cherries (24), and while Everton in 15th have 25, they also have a game less to play between now and the end of the season. It’ll be a tough battle, but Bournemouth have taken a huge step in the right direction.

On the other hand, games like this appear likely to cost Liverpool their top-four place. The last five league matches they played saw them move from 10th to fifth, but now, Newcastle and Brighton, sitting directly below, both have two games in hand on the Reds, and Spurs in fourth have increased their lead to six again, beating Nottingham Forest.

A brilliant day for O’Neil, and back to the drawing board for Klopp, whose team simply cannot afford another slip-up like this if they want to play in the Champions League next season.


Veselin Trajkovic

Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.



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