Liverpool begin what will be a hectic Christmas period with a tough away trip to Bournemouth. The Reds are set to play six fixtures over the festive period, culminating with a top-of-the-table clash with Manchester City on New Year’s Eve, but, for now, the focus is on the Vitality Stadium this weekend. Liverpool’s form in the Premier League is near unrivalled, having remained unbeaten since their 2-0 defeat to Burnley earlier this season. Jurgen Klopp’s side lie just one point behind league leaders Chelsea and with the top two set to square off at the Etihad Stadium this Saturday, the opportunity to reclaim top spot is there. Bournemouth, however, have lost three of their last four, despite a credible performance against Arsenal last weekend. They find themselves in 12th place at the moment and Eddie Howe will be seeking to move his side into the top half.
LAST TIME OUT
Arsenal 3-1 BOURNEMOUTH
Alexis Sanchez scored twice as Arsenal ended a run of three consecutive draws to sink the Cherries at the Emirates Stadium. A sloppy back pass from Lewis Cook put Sanchez through on goal and the Chilean forward made no mistake to put Arsenal ahead in the 12th minute. Bournemouth drew level with a Callum Wilson penalty, however, as referee Mike Jones judged Nacho Monreal to have fouled the striker in the area. The Cherries went on to apply some pressure after equalising, but they missed two chances to go ahead when an unmarked Adam Smith headed over and Brad Smith had a shot saved. Arsenal restored their lead in the 53rd minute when Theo Walcott headed in a Monreal cross and Sanchez added gloss to the victory with a tap-in from an Olivier Giroud cross in added time.
LIVERPOOL 2-0 Leeds United
17-year-old Ben Woodburn broke Michael Owen’s long-standing record as Liverpool’s youngest ever goal-scorer as the Reds beat Leeds in the EFL Cup quarterfinal to seal their spot in the last four of the competition. Divock Origi put Liverpool ahead in the 76th minute when he swept in Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross from close range and Welsh U19 prospect Woodburn sealed the win with his goal in the 81st minute. The scoreline isn’t entirely reflective of how the game went, however, and, in truth, Leeds threatened and could well have taken the lead, especially when Hadi Sacko spurned a good chance in the first ten minutes. Kemar Roofe also saw his curling effort hit the inside of the post and bounce out.
Howe revealed that Andrew Surman will miss Sunday’s game against Liverpool, but Artur Boruc and Charlie Daniels could return, with a late decision set to be made on the fitness of the latter.
Philippe Coutinho was stretched off with an ankle injury last weekend and Klopp confirmed the Brazilian could be out for roughly a month of action. With Daniel Sturridge also struggling for fitness Divock Origi will start up front and Roberto Firmino will take up position out wide, though Firmino, too, is also a doubt. Klopp can welcome back Adam Lallana and Joel Matip.
KEYS TO THE GAME
With the Reds struggling with injuries, there’s certainly an opportunity for Bournemouth to at least earn a point from this fixture. The key, however, is how they approach the game. Sitting back too deep invites pressure and with Liverpool’s fluid and intense movement in the final third, it’s something that Bournemouth should look to avoid. Eddie Howe, in his typical style, should instruct his players to try and match Liverpool in terms of the intensity with which they play as their back four is somewhat unstable and the Cherries could capitalise on this. Approaching the game with the right plan, therefore, is of utmost importance if Bournemouth want anything this weekend.
Jack Wilshere vs. Jordan Henderson
Both players have been given a new lease of life by their managers this season and, thus, it’s a key battle in this fixture. Wilshere is Bournemouth’s principal source of creativity, whilst Henderson has relished his new role in front of the Liverpool centre-backs and has justified Klopp’s decision not to buy any more central midfielders over the summer. Therefore, if Henderson can successfully limit Wilshere’s influence, the likes of Callum Wilson and Junior Stanislas will struggle for service up front, but if Henderson is off of his game, Bournemouth have a chance.
Can Liverpool stay fluid in the final third?
The most attractive and noteworthy aspect of Liverpool’s performances this season has been their unrivalled fluidity and creativity in the final third. However, much of it was due to the interdependant movement of Coutinho, Mane and Firmino. It’s not so much the individual role of each player, but how the trio function in unison. Hence, it raises the question of whether Liverpool can maintain this impact in the final third without Coutinho in the side. It’s a big chance for Origi to impress his manager and he needs to show he can seemlessly slot into a fluid front three and plug the gap left by Coutinho’s injury.
PREDICTION: Bournemouth 1-2 Liverpool
Whilst the Vitality Stadium is a tough place to come, highlighted by Bournemouth’s hard-fought 0-0 draw with Tottenham earlier this season, I think Liverpool should be able to win this match, despite the loss of Coutinho. It’ll be interesting to see how Mane and Firmino cope without the Brazilian’s influence, but Origi has been in good goal-scoring form recently and he should keep up this record with a goal this weekend. Hence, a 2-1 away win.