All season long we’ve waited for this Liverpool team to click into gear and reproduce the brand of attacking football that made last year’s campaign so easy on the eye.
But instead, with each passing week, this Jurgen Klopp outfit develops a more traditional efficiency and maturity reminiscent of those great Red sides of old whose only business was winning football matches with a minimum of fuss.
At Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium the Reds were in the rudest of health.
Two season’s ago, Klopp’s first full term in office promised a genuine title challenge until the wheels came off at this same little compact venue on the south coast.
Defensive blundering and madcap goalkeeping from Loris Karius that day put a huge spanner in the works but the contrast in style during this facile victory couldn’t have been starker. This assault on the Premier League is built on surer defensive footings but still with potential for a sprinkling of stardust up front.
The mood among Liverpudlians is buoyant. The fillip of a last minute Derby victory and a hard-fought midweek triumph from behind at Burnley sought only to embolden belief these Reds have the fighting spirit and winning mentality to keep abreast of the insane pace at the summit. Suddenly though the swagger is back to accompany a ruthless streak and as Liverpool passed the ball at will during the closing stages, the gleeful “Ole’s” from the travelling support were indicative of a genuine sense this is a team perfectly aligned with the confidence of its fans.
Liverpool are top of the Premier League.
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) December 8, 2018
Klopp himself, steadily embracing the art of rotation, is maturing as manager with the skill to adapt personnel and systems. His summer transfer activity is also beginning to bear fruit. Xherdan Shaqiri impresses each time he takes the field with his impish activity giving Liverpool the creative zeal that many observers feel has been lacking since the departure of Phil Coutinho and loss to injury of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Fabinho – maligned for a slow start to his Anfield career – is starting to settle into a role anchoring the midfield; sitting deep to stifle the opposition but capable of unfussy, astute passing getting the Reds on the front foot. Naby Keita too is beginning to deliver on the promises made on his arrival; not solely a combative foot soldier but with a penchant for an injection of pace and trickery encapsulated in an outrageous first half double nutmeg. Not quite as explosive as in midweek, the Guinean coasted through his afternoon’s work with a number of reassuring touches of class.
And, it almost now goes without saying that Alisson Becker is an acquisition of the highest class, exuding the calm assurance that was absent in his predecessors and blessed with a level of concentration that is prerequisite of the greatest goalkeepers. He was largely untroubled throughout but still alert to make a smart save at his near post when the game was in the balance during a tight first period.
Brilliant @MoSalah ⚽️⚽️⚽️
— Jamie Carragher (@Carra23) December 8, 2018
Mohammed Salah however remains this Liverpool team’s star turn.
It is testimony to the Egyptian’s class that he has adapted to the role of centre-forward after last season’s exploits cutting in from the left.
Along with the ability to play with his back to goal, Salah has developed the poachers’ instinct to be in the right place at the right time. When Roberto Firmino’s clattering volley was only parried by the Cherries’ Asmir Begovic, Salah’s instinctive follow-up and clinical left foot finish was redolent of Ian Rush in his prime.
In the second half, Firmino was again to the fore in supplying Salah with his second goal after snaffling possession on halfway. Salah exhibited rare bravery in withstanding Steve Cook’s agricultural hack from behind; wincing in pain as he strove to keep his feet before slotting masterfully home across the flailing outstretched arms of the keeper. If there were any residual fears that Bournemouth might jeopardise Liverpool’s ascendancy they were dispelled in an instant.
Salah saved up the best for last; his hat-trick goal the piece de resistance of a masterful Liverpool performance. Once more evading the attentions of the hapless Cook – scorer of the Reds’ third goal with an expertly inadvertent back-heel – Klopp’s talisman twice rounded Begovic, putting the keeper on the seat of pants in glorious comedy fashion, before poking home with the outside of that cultured left peg. His nonchalant celebration in front of the Liverpool supporters portrayed a man for whom such genius is all in a days’ work.
News later in the day from Stamford Bridge only added to Liverpudlian glee. Manchester City’s defeat at the hands of Chelsea leaves the Reds as the only side remaining unvanquished. The balance of power in the title race has suddenly shifted towards Merseyside and our rivals now have to cope with the interminable pressure of playing catch-up.
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