Matt Ritchie and Simon Francis will look to make gains down the right and test out the Reds' new recruit, says Alex Keble...
Walking onto the floodlit pitch at Anfield is the childhood dream of any football fan; it is a fitting venue for Bournemouth’s inaugural Premier League away game, and one that provides a second opportunity for fairytale beginnings after the opening-day defeat to Aston Villa last weekend. After all, this is a team that plays without fear or retreat, and one that is surprisingly well equipped to topple a giant of the English game.
In the awkward 1-0 defeat of Stoke last time out, Liverpool’s 19-year-old Joe Gomez suffered a physically demanding debut at left-back. Mark Hughes instructed his players to persistently hit long diagonal passes towards Jonathan Walters in an attempt to bully Gomez and exploit a potential weak point. The young defender dealt with the task admirably, although signs of discomfort became increasingly evident. Matt Ritchie, Bournemouth’s right winger and standout player, will offer another stern test.
Like Stoke, Bournemouth do not suffer from an inferiority complex. The remarkable self-belief instilled in these players has led them to two promotions in three seasons; not even the threat of Liverpool will provoke abandonment of their short-passing aesthetics. Bournemouth averaged 58% possession away from home in the Championship last season.
One of Bournemouth’s most interesting tactical strategies is the interplay between Simon Francis and Ritchie. Lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, Howe insists upon recycling possession and building attacks via narrow passing triangles, achieved via inverted wingers that drift infield and leave width creation to the full-backs. Francis’ marauding runs and Ritchie’s intricate passing make their right-hand side the most important area of the pitch.
Against Aston Villa at the Vitality Stadium last Saturday, Eddie Howe’s team distributed the ball to Ritchie as quickly as possible via long, sweeping passes. With Francis (6 assists, 1.4 accurate crosses per match last season) galloping down the flanks as Ritchie (17 assists, 2.1 key passes per match) draws Gomez towards him, the young English full-back faces his first major test at Premier League level.
Rarely will Bournemouth find that their primary strength correlates with their opposition’s big weakness. It may be an intimidating venue, but the Cherries' chances of collecting three points are oddly high.