Liverpool 1 Bournemouth 0: Three talking points as Christian Benteke scores
Three talking points as Liverpool edge to victory over Bournemouth courtesy of Christian Benteke's winner
Bournemouth stay true to themselves
There was once a time when clubs newly promoted into the Premier League would seek to inch their way to safety, painstakingly scrapping for every single point they could muster. Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth, however, are the latest in a growing number of aspirational outfits to arrive in the top-flight, adhering to the principles that got them there in the first place. It was an approach that, at Anfield, had the Cherries’ supporters, packed into their corner of the ground, baiting The Kop ten minutes into the game. The object of the travelling fans’ taunts was the fast-disappearing fevered atmosphere that preceded the match. Howe’s team sucked the life out of the Reds’ hordes, not by making the pitch small and smothering the game, but by taking it to their esteemed opponents. Bournemouth’s full-backs, Simon Francis and, in particular, Charlie Daniels, were regularly to be found charging over the half-way line, joining in attacks and slinging crosses into a box that was, typically, well populated by black and blue shirts. With Eunan O’Kane and Andrew Surman offering disciplined protection in front of the visitors’ back-four, the Cherries’ attack-minded players had licence to pour forward and target what they clearly perceived to be the weak link in Liverpool’s defensive unit, Dejan Lovren. If referee Craig Pawson hadn’t harshly ruled out Tommy Elphick’s early headed goal, for a push on the hosts’ Croatian defender, then Bournemouth’s bravery would have reaped maximum rewards. Who knows how the course of the night might have been altered if the goal had stood? Once Liverpool established their advantage through Christian Benteke’s prodded finish, confidence in the home ranks visibly grew.Howe’s side initially found it difficult to regain their composure. A few passes began to go awry, and the Reds, casting off their earlier hesitancy, were able to impose themselves on proceedings. Nevertheless, Bournemouth sucked it up, and went again after half-time. Matt Ritchie grew into the game on the Cherries’ right. O’Kane and Surman, meanwhile, showed a willingness to get beyond their strikers, as the away team went after a leveller, with the same purpose that was the mark of their opening to the night. It wasn’t to be, but if a few marginal calls had gone the other way then Bournemouth could have been returning down the M6 with a point, at least, to their name. No prizes for their efforts tonight, but continue as they are, and the Cherries will be on the board before long.
New season, new Liverpool?
Home debuts tonight for four Liverpool players, but The Kop will have been fascinated by their first sight of Christian Benteke, above all else. Following on from the Belgian striker’s maiden appearance for his new club at Stoke last week, when Brendan Rodgers’ team was routinely prepared to hit their front man early, there was more of the same from the start, here. With the deadlock broken, and the Reds’ anxieties consequently assuaged, there was less of a rush in the home ranks to locate their towering centre-forward. Benteke was at pains to disagree, when his former boss at Aston Villa, Tim Sherwood, suggested that the 24 year-old needs a steady supply of crosses into the box, if he is to thrive. Nevertheless, when feeding off balls hit to him from deep, Benteke’s success rate was inconsistent, although that was down to his colleagues, as much as it was a failing of the target-man’s. Once or twice, Benteke’s touch was loose, but on other occasions the attacker was starved of support. There were tentative signs that Benteke could strike up a fruitful relationship with Philippe Coutinho, in time; one ball hit from half-way by the Brazilian in the first-half was fractionally over-cooked, depriving the front man of a one-on-one opportunity. Accused in the past of lacking the work ethic of the very best strikers, there was no shirking on Benteke’s part tonight. The away team’s back-four could never relax in possession with the former Genk man hungrily chasing them down. One little cameo in the second period that saw Benteke kill a difficult ball sent in his direction before, back to goal, sweeping a terrific cross-field pass to fellow new boy Nathaniel Clyne demonstrated there is far more to the striker than merely his aerial prowess. So too, the energy and awareness to break and tee-up a chance for Coutinho. And, of course, more importantly, when Jordan Henderson’s first-half delivery swung teasingly across goal, the £32m striker was the man on hand to do what, more than anything else, Liverpool paid all that money for. It was another ball from out wide late on that Benteke turned onto the frame of the goal. He is undeniably at his most potent on the end of crosses, then, but Benteke’s opening turns in Liverpool red suggest a man who is more than a one-trick pony. And what’s more, the controversy surrounding his first Liverpool strike, won’t bother the scorer a jot.
New Season, Same Lovren
If Dejan Lovren’s underwhelming first campaign as a Liverpool player was to be written off as a bedding-in process, then the former Southampton defender couldn’t afford to stumble from the traps this time around. There was nothing in his display against Bournemouth, though, to signal that we will see a new and improved Lovren this season. From the opening minutes, the Croatian couldn’t get to grips with Callum Wilson, Josh King or Ritchie, bombing into Lovren’s left-sided channel, drawing a string of errors from the Liverpool man. The centre-half’s travails were thrown into a sharp light by the performance to his left of Joe Gomez. An 18 year-old signed from Charlton Athletic in the summer, with only a handful of Championship appearances under his belt, Gomez barely put a foot wrong. Tellingly, in common with Clyne, Lovren’s fellow ex-Saint, making his first Anfield start, the young left-back looked as if he belonged. Likewise, there were glimpses in the second-half of the Adam Lallana that Liverpool bought from Southampton, rather than the timid figure of last season. Lovren rose to make a couple of crucial interventions late on, but without Pawson’s whistle to rescue him the defender would have been culpable in his team falling behind. This is by no means a Liverpool team firing on all cylinders. It is a mile off the title challenging edition of 2013/2014. But, like Manchester United, the Reds have won their first two games of this campaign, without being breached. Standards are gradually being set and, if he is to prolong his Anfield career, Lovren needs to follow the example of those around him.