After a night of the teenagers at Anfield, it will probably be up to the more experienced players on Sunday, as Liverpool head down south to Dean Court to face Bournemouth. This is the first game of a few that Liverpool will play without the talismanic Philippe Coutinho after the little magician’s injury against Sunderland.
Bournemouth gave a good account of themselves before a late Arsenal surge ensured that left the Emirates Stadium with nothing to show for their efforts. For the Cherries’ Jordon Ibe and Brad Smith, it will be their first meeting against their former employers, as they look to help Eddie Howe’s men upset the Reds’ applecart.
Here are the individual battles that are likely to decide the outcome of the game.
Steve Cook v Divock Origi
Cook will be looking to atone for his schoolboy error that led to Alexis Sanchez opening the scoring at the Emirates. Liverpool’s Belgian is gaining his confidence back, after two goals in two games. Those goals have all but ensured that he will start ahead of Daniel Sturridge on Sunday. Origi’s strength is his versatility, not just in the positions that he can play, but the kind of goals he scores.
Against Sunderland, it was a beautiful curler that broke the deadlock when the Reds seemed to be hitting a brick wall. It was a similar situation against Leeds in the EFL cup, but that goal was completely different. It was a typical centre forward’s goal. He attacked Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross brilliantly to ensure he got in ahead of the Leeds keeper to set Liverpool on their way on what was becoming an increasingly itchy night at Anfield.
One can be assured that Origi will press and will not give Bournemouth’s defenders time on the ball. In that case, it will be crucial for Cook not to lose concentration. That is exactly what happened last week, when Alexis stole a march on him to stroke the ball past Artur Boruc.
Jack Wilshere v Jordan Henderson
Wilshere has found a new lease of life on the south coast, and he seems to be enjoying his football. For a player as talented as he is, this was the break he needed, from all the pressures and rigours associated with playing for Arsenal.
On Sunday, he will be up against the best defensive midfielder in the Premier League this season, at least statistically. Like his compatriot, Liverpool’s captain has had a new beginning this season, with Jurgen Klopp giving him a new role in front of the centre-backs. Henderson has taken to it like a fish to water and has ensured that Klopp’s decision not to buy a new central midfielder has paid off, at least so far.
Wilshere is Bournemouth’s main creative engine. The likes of Junior Stanislas and Callum Wilson will be looking to the loanee’s service and Henderson will look to stop exactly that.
With his ability, Henderson is not just a defensive midfielder. He is also the one tasked with starting Liverpool’s attacks, setting the all-conquering forwards on their way. Emre Çan’s presence in the XI has helped Henderson as the German’s engine has complimented Henderson’s style to perfection.
Brad Smith v Sadio Mané
The Australian youngster featured for Klopp a few times last season, when he decided to rest Alberto Moreno in the face of more important commitments. Smith played at the Emirates and was troubled by Mesut Özil’s brilliant ability to weave defenders around with his silky feet.
Mané has not been in the best of form after the international break. Teams have sat deep against us, and without space to move into, Mané’s most precious asset, his pace has been nullified. Smith is quick too, but Liverpool and Klopp would know that the defensive side of his game is still very suspect. Mané will definitely have Clyne bombing up in support whenever he can. That means that whoever Bournemouth’s left winger is, he will have to track back enough to ensure Smith gets support.
In Coutinho’s absence, Roberto Firmino and Mané will have bigger roles to play. Firmino scored at Dean Court last season.
Mané has had these alarming dips of form all through his time at Southampton, and Klopp will only hope that the last three games have been the result of the opposition’s system and not a dip in the Senegalese’s form.
Bournemouth will not sit back as much as Sunderland did, so there could be more space for Mané to go in to. But due Howe, to get his defensive organisation correct will be important.
Callum Wilson v Joel Matip
After what seems like ages, Liverpool have kept three successive clean sheets. That has in no small part been down to Matip, Dejan Lovren and Loris Karius seeming to develop more of an understanding with each other. Also, it would be pretentious to deny that it has also been down to opposition’s reluctance to give us space in attack, meaning that they have had their striker very isolated.
Matip has been commanding for Liverpool, and if not for a certain Yorkshireman playing left-back for us right now, he would hands down be our best free transfer in ages. Even now, he is an unbelievable signing who has contributed in no small part to our defence looking a little less shaky.
After watching Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho on the ball, Matip’s composure in possession is a breath of fresh air.
Wilson has come back very strong this season, after the ACL injury that kept him out of a large part of last season. He scored a beauty at the Emirates last week too. In all, it hasn’t taken him too long to become Howe’s most trusted weapon again and for Bournemouth’s sake, he has got to fire. And it is not just in terms of his goal threat, but generally keeping the defenders occupied. Otherwise Clyne and Milner will get forward at will, leaving the Cherries with more numbers to defend against.