Premier League | Anfield | Mon 17 Aug | 8pm
A big night for Bournemouth, but a bigger one for Brendan.
- Stoke 0-1 Liverpool (Prem)
- Swindon 1-2 Liverpool (F)
- HJK 0-2 Liverpool (F)
- Malaysia XI 1-1 Liverpool (F)
- Adelaide 0-2 Liverpool (F)
- B’mouth 0-1 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Hoffenheim 0-0 B’mouth (F)
- B’mouth 2-3 Cardiff (F)
- Yeovil 0-3 B’mouth (F)
- Nantes 0-0 B’mouth (F)
There’s nothing quite like playing the first away game of your maiden Premier League campaign at Anfield to turn a fairytale real. Bournemouth fans wouldn’t have cherry-picked a Monday night to visit Merseyside – the last train home leaves at 18:47, an hour-and-a-quarter before kick-off – but given they’ve not been to Anfield since Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic were beaten 4-1 there in a 1968 FA Cup third round replay, it’s a happy inconvenience.
Suggesting the trip to Liverpool is nothing more than a day out for a club punching above its weight would be rather condescending, however. Bournemouth will arrive at Anfield in search of points, not patronising plaudits. The novelty of being in the top division will soon wear off if defeats stack up, and you only need to look at Liverpool’s Premier League history to realise that getting a result at one of English football’s genuine cathedrals is no forlorn hope.
Wimbledon, Norwich, Barnsley, Ipswich, Watford, Coventry, Fulham, Charlton, Wigan and Blackpool have all won league games at Anfield. Crystal Palace won 3-1 there in the Reds' (and Steven Gerrard’s) final home game last season.
The structure of the club’s new main stand can be seen from across the River Mersey, but Anfield has been more of a tourist attraction than a fortress in recent times and if Bournemouth can get hold of the ball and play some of the stuff they did in the Championship, it could be quite a contest.
Liverpool, of course, will expect to win and Brendan Rodgers is well aware that his side must get their home form right immediately given what lies ahead on the road. Rafa Benitez, during his famous ‘rant’ in 2009, suggested that Alex Ferguson arranged the fixture list, but with the Reds’ next six away games being at Arsenal, Manchester United, Everton, Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City, Fergie may well have gotten his hands on the fixture computer this time. You know it’s a tough run when Stoke away on the opening weekend is considered the ‘easiest’ away match until December.
So turning three points into six on Monday night is a must for Liverpool, attempting to break back into the top four remains the realistic target for Rodgers’ men this season. Cautiously optimistic Kopites recall that their side began the 2013/14 campaign with a grim 1-0 victory against Stoke to launch a thrilling title challenge that nobody saw coming. That surprise season makes Liverpool an intriguing prospect.
If they use Christian Benteke correctly. If Roberto Firmino provides a new creative spark. If Daniel Sturridge stays fit and starts scoring. If James Milner is an improvement on the ageing Gerrard. If Jordon Ibe has Kopites saying ‘Raheem who?’ If they defend better. Then maybe the Reds will be better than most predict.
But let’s see how they deal with Bournemouth first; if the visitors earn a shock win, the fans Rodgers has admitted he needs to “regain the trust” of will be thinking about their next manager, not a title challenge.
There’s a distinct possibility that Rodgers could field exactly the same starting XI that proved they can do it on a mild Sunday afternoon at Stoke, but you suspect the Liverpool boss will be itching to unleash new signing Firmino in front of the Kop. With Adam Lallana ineffective at the Britannia, it’d be the one obvious change to make. Home debuts for Benteke, Milner, Nathaniel Clyne and Joe Gomez also look likely, with Danny Ings and Divock Origi expected to be on the bench again.
Having left new signings Adam Federici, Sylvain Distin, Tyrone Mings and Max Gradel on the bench against Aston Villa, and Christian Atsu out of the matchday squad, it’s difficult to predict precisely what Howe will do at Anfield, which might just help him as one thing the Cherries have in their favour is the element of surprise. If he throws several of his new boys in it could catch the Reds out, but then is Liverpool away really the right time to field an untried line-up? We'll see just how brave the Bournemouth boss is.
Key battle: Christian Benteke vs Sylvain Distin
Bournemouth were beaten by a goal from Benteke’s replacement Rudy Gestede last weekend and now they’ve got to try to stop Liverpool’s £32.5 million man from making his home debut one to remember. Distin is yet to make his Cherries bow, but his vast experience and Premier League know-how must make him a serious contender to do so at Anfield, while Howe may have noted that Benteke failed to score in two of his three matches against Everton when Distin was lining up against him.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- B’mouth 1-2 L’pool (LC, Dec 14)
- B’mouth 0-2 L’pool (FAC, Jan 14)
- L’pool 4-1 B’mouth (FAC, Jan 68)
- B’mouth 0-0 L’pool (FAC, Jan 68)
- L’pool 4-1 B’mouth (FAC, Jan 27)
Having led Swansea into the Premier League for the first time back in 2011, Rodgers will know exactly how Howe is feeling as he takes charge of his first away trip in the top flight.
There are plenty of similarities between the pair – both starting their coaching careers relatively early after their playing days were curtailed through injury, for instance – and they have similar footballing philosophies in that they like their teams to play the ball on the deck.
Both have got very different targets to aim for this season, however. Rodgers would be happy for his side to finish bottom of the top four while Howe would surely take finishing top of the bottom four. For both men to achieve their aims, Liverpool need to win what would traditionally be called a 'routine' home game like this against Bournemouth. Howe's men, meanwhile, will hope to pick up unexpected points from tough-looking away fixtures at places like Anfield while beating those sides around them.
Facts and figures
- Simon Mignolet has kept more clean sheets than any other Premier League goalkeeper in 2015 (10).
- Matt Ritchie assisted more goals than any other player in the Championship in 2014/15 (17).
- No side won more away games (13) or collected more points away (44) than Bournemouth in the Championship last season.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Liverpool's previous first home games of the season have been tight affairs under Rodgers and their new attacking unit may take time to gel. A 1-0 win for the Reds could be on the cards.