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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 February 2019

'Mesmerising' Liverpool back on track and back on top as Bournemouth overwhelmed

Mane, Wijnaldum and Salah on target in 3-0 win as Liverpool return to the top of the Premier League table

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring their third goal against Bournemouth with Roberto Firmino and Andrew Robertson. Reuters
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring their third goal against Bournemouth with Roberto Firmino and Andrew Robertson. Reuters

After the blip, a game when Liverpool did not let it slip. They had dropped four points and lost two leads in their previous two matches. There was no hat-trick. They were emphatic and impressive as they returned to the top of the table. This was not a day when anxiety engulfed Anfield; not as Liverpool produced their best performance of 2019.

If Bournemouth were ideal opponents, they were overwhelmed. If Liverpool had been mediocre in Monday’s draw at West Ham United, there were moments of magnificence. Gini Wijnaldum’s decision to lob a goalkeeper scarcely three yards off his line was audacious, but his execution for Liverpool’s second goal was exceptional. It illustrated the way that Liverpool regained their confidence. “Some of the play was mesmerising,” said the famously down-to-earth James Milner.

“We had some outstanding performances,” said Jurgen Klopp. “We wanted to show a reaction.” This was a welcome response after the setbacks against Leicester City and West Ham. “We were not happy with the two performances,” their manager added. “We wanted to show a reaction.”

If Liverpool turned the clock back a few weeks, they also rewound it to last season. Klopp revisited the recent past, reverted to 4-3-3 and his players looked liberated as they played with more speed and intensity. Roberto Firmino, so out of sorts at West Ham, was ubiquitous as he relished being the attacking fulcrum. The Brazilian set up Mohamed Salah’s 20th goal of the season, a typically assured finish, with a cute backheel.

“I don’t think you find a lot of players who do what Bobby is doing in that moment; most of them try to shoot,” added Klopp as, once again, Liverpool offered instinctive, inventive combinations. Their fans spoke of Salah “running down the wing” and, after a spell as a striker, he did again. “He was pretty much undefendable,” said Klopp.

Salah also whipped a shot against the bar and he, Sadio Mane, Firmino and Trent Alexander-Arnold spurned chances to add a fourth goal. And yet, deserving winners as they undeniably were, fortune favoured them initially. While it was typical their form forward broke the deadlock, it was a lucky 13th goal of the season for Mane.

“Half a yard offside; a huge turning point in the match,” rued Eddie Howe, the beaten Bournemouth manager, as history repeated itself. It was the second goal in a week that Milner supplied for Mane; the second, too, that ought to have been disallowed for offside. The Senegalese had strayed when Milner crossed. His header nonetheless meant he has scored in four successive games while if it is testament to Milner’s character that he played on Monday despite being ill, it is another that he concluded his spell as an auxiliary right-back with assists in successive matches. The specialist Alexander-Arnold made his comeback as a substitute.

On the other flank, Andrew Robertson and Mane hassled the Liverpool old boy Jordon Ibe out of possession for the second. The Scot chipped the ball forward, Wijnaldum met it and beat Artur Boruc with a delicate, delightful dink. The sublime followed the painful. “He didn't sleep in the team hotel last night,” Klopp revealed. “He had diarrhoea and vomiting two nights earlier. I was concerned after he scored that everyone gives him a hug.” However, Liverpool’s first goal since Boxing Day that was not scored by Mane, Salah or Firmino left Bournemouth feeling sick.

“Self-inflicted,” said Howe as Bournemouth suffered an eighth consecutive away defeat. They have conceded at least two goals in each and their quest for a blend of counter-attacking menace and solidity failed. Alisson was required to stop Ryan Fraser’s second-minute shot but a side deprived of the injured Callum Wilson and David Brooks benched their £19 million (Dh90m) signing from Liverpool, Dominic Solanke, to bolster the midfield.

“We have had inconsistencies,” added Howe, in an understatement.

Updated: February 9, 2019 10:20 PM

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