This feels like our most important game of December. Given that we’re in a month that features the Merseyside derby, the visit of Manchester City to Anfield and a tricky trip to Middlesbrough, I’m aware that that’s an odd thing to say. Yet the last few performances have seen us lose a little bit of momentum and I’m very keen for us to get it back as soon as possible. A loss or draw on the South coast against a bottom half team will be a disappointment that we might struggle to recover from in the bigger games.
Having said that, Jürgen Klopp is forging a Liverpool side with genuine mental resilience. Perhaps more so than any side since the 1980s. Is it a coincidence that we’re also playing some of the best football since back then, too? Who knows. The only thing for certain is that I’d like us to get a win on Sunday and keep the pressure on Manchester City and Chelsea, one or both of whom will be dropping points before we play. So what are the two teams looking like ahead of the game at the Vitality?
One thing is for certain, Klopp likes to keep his cards close to his chest. He also wears his heart on his sleeve, meaning that his jacket is very busy but also that he’s not the sort of manager who gives answers to be political. What we do know is that Daniel Sturridge will not feature at the weekend as he hasn’t recovered from his calf strain in time. Philippe Coutinho and Danny Ings remain long-term injuries.
The question on everyone’s lips is about whether or not Adam Lallana will return to the starting line-up. The midfielder has been sorely missed in recent matches, with the Reds failing to break down Southampton in his absence and looking laboured against Sunderland. He trained on Thursday, but will Klopp risk putting him in when he normally tries to introduce players slowly if they’ve been out for a period of time?
A similar question could be asked of Roberto Firmino, though the Brazilian only had a knock and has missed significantly less training time than Lallana. The manager seemed to use Gini Wijnaldum from the left against Leeds in the EFL Cup on Tuesday, perhaps trying him out as a replacement for Coutinho. Will he stay over there or will he drop back down to the bench with Divock Origi keeping his position in the starting XI? My team for Sunday is Karius – Clyne – Matip – Lovren – Milner – Henderson – Can – Lallana – Wijnaldum – Mané – Firmino.
Klopp was full of praise for Eddie Howe in the press conference today, quick to point out that he’s got the Cherries playing with a specific style and a degree of confidence. The Bournemouth manager doesn’t have the same injury problems as his Liverpool counterpart, with only Andrew Surman likely to miss out. In fact Howe can welcome people back into his starting XI, with both Artur Boruc and Charlie Daniels likely to be fit.
A manager will never complain about having a largely fit squad, but figuring out how to balance his side will be tricky for the young manager. On-loan Jack Wilshere couldn’t play in their last match against his parent club Arsenal so he’ll return to the midfield and Jordan Ibe will be hoping that he’ll get a run out against us in the hope of proving to Klopp he was wrong to let him leave. I’d expect to see the same XI that won away at Stoke and I think it’s got the ability to cause us problems.
When the Reds travelled to St. Mary’s after the international break they didn’t pick up the three points but they absolutely dominated the match. We could have scored four or five and it wouldn’t have flattered us. Southampton were excellent at the back and it just wasn’t our day. Since then we’ve looked somewhat slow and ponderous against Sunderland and Leeds, lacking the verve and vigour that made us the most exciting team in the league. We’re unbeaten in fifteen games, though, and have only lost one in seventeen in all competitions.
Bournemouth’s form has been slightly more mixed. On the one hand they sit twelfth in the Premier League table, on the other they’re only five points off the relegation zone. They played really well against Arsenal and the 3-1 scoreline flattered the Gunners, but they did lost 3-1. They also lost Sunderland at home in November and they got beaten 2-0 by Middlesbrough at the end of October. We’ve never lost to the Cherries in nine meetings dating all the way back to 1927. They’ve lost three of their last four in the league, but then again they’ve only lost one of the last five at home.
If a team has genuine ambitions for the title then it shouldn’t be scared by the idea of a trip to play Bournemouth. Then again, the Cherries are set up in a way that could exploit our weaknesses and I expect them to learn from Sunderland’s decision to attack us with quick counters. What, then, should you be betting on?
Patience Being Key
One of the things that seems to have been forgotten in amongst all of Liverpool’s brilliant play this season is the training ground call that the ‘fittest team wins’. Jürgen Klopp and his backroom staff were drilling that into the players before the season even got underway and its importance has become more and more relevant as the campaign has worn on. It’s not just about being able to run the furthest but also about out-lasting opponents who aren’t fit enough to keep up their defence against us for the full ninety.
I believe that that patience and out fitness will be key to taking three points away with us from the Vitality Stadium. Bournemouth are a well-organised side and they didn’t lose their structure or discipline when they got a home draw against Spurs towards the end of October. I think this game will be decided in the last twenty, which is why a Half-Time/Full-Time bet of Draw/Liverpool at 7/2 Looks like a decent one to me.
I do think that Bournemouth’s strengths are our weaknesses to an extent, but they’ve only scored three in five games and we’re strong at the back, limiting the amount of shots on target opposition teams have more than almost any other side in Europe. For that reason I’m also keeping an eye on Liverpool To Win To Nil at 5/2. If you put a gun to my head and asked for a score prediction then I think I’d lump for a third straight 2-0 Win for the Reds, which is around 8/1.
Who Will Score The Goals?
I do think it will be tight against the Cherries but I also think that in the end we’ll have too much for them. That means that someone will be getting on the scoresheet, so who will it be? We’ve managed thirteen set-piece goals so far in the campaign, beating the next best side West Ham by four. Joel Matip has come very close to extending that amount on numerous occasions recently so I’m counting on him to go one better here. You can get 9/1 for Matip To Score Anytime and I’d recommend that you take it.
Klopp refused to be drawn on whether Ben Woodburn would be returning to the Under-23s in his press conference, the inference being that he might well make the bench in the absence of Daniel Sturridge. Woodburn is around 6/1 to be the Last Goalscorer and that looks tasty to me after the impression he made against Leeds. He’ll be flying high right now and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him take that form into this game.
As always, though, I might not be right in what I’m saying. That’s why I like to give you choices that go against my predictions. The two players I would least like to see score on Sunday are Jordan Ibe and Jack Wilshere. The former as he’s an ex-player and the latter as he’s an over-rated one. Wilshere is 4/1 and Ibe 9/2 to Score Anytime, should that be a bet that you want to place. You can also get odds as long as 4/1 for Bournemouth To Win, which is silly when you consider our injury list.
I’ve picked out some brilliant bets in recent weeks but not chosen them as my chief tips, so I’m hoping to reverse the trend on that front this time around. That’s why I’m going with Half-Time/Full-Time Draw/Liverpool @ 7/2 as my first recommendation. For the second I’m going to go with a long odds option that I can see coming to fruition. Matip as an Anytime Goalscorer at 9/1 is a bit of a punt, but it’s an educated one. Best of luck!