Liverpool 1 Bournemouth 0: Liverpool might not yet have produced Jurgen Klopp’s heavy metal football, but they are now at least approaching soft rock.
The German tasted victory for the first time since his appointment as Liverpool manager, and that it came by a solitary goal in a Capital One Cup fourth-round tie against a Bournemouth team that had five spanked past them last weekend will matter little.
Four games without a win might have tempered the honeymoon period a little. Instead Klopp is up and running and there was much to encourage.
Klopp said; “My first win feels better than a draw! I’m really satisfied because this team had never played together and the young players did really well. We were dominant, played football and got the win we deserved.”
The performance of Roberto Firmino was particularly encouraging.
Klopp said: “He is a physically strong player which is important in England. He is a good finisher and is a good player. He is offensive, but he can play in deep spaces too and can take the ball.”
Merseyside Police had spent Tuesday scouring the ground after a person went missing during a tour of Anfield; and Firmino’s performances on the pitch to date had seen the Kop to do likewise with the Brazilian.
Entrusted with a central role in a triumvirate of attacking midfielders Firmino thrived; a drop of the shoulder here, a cute flick there and noticeably a more vocal presence as he demanded the ball.
Klopp had revealed his admiration for the former Hoffenheim man beforehand, and he certainly added an X-factor to Liverpool’s play hitherto lacking in his opening three games of his reign.
It was a display that was enough to earn him a standing ovation when he was substituted with three minutes remaining — and there haven’t been too many of them from for any player Liverpool fans this season.
Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane was another interested spectator at Anfield last night.
It was a Liverpool team that showed nine changes with only Divock Origi and Nathaniel Clyne retained from the 1-1 draw with Southampton as Klopp gave some of the club’s youngsters a chance.
Among them were full-back Connor Randall and midfielder Cameron Brannagan, who impressed on their senior debuts for the Reds along with Joao Teixeira as he made his first start.
Much has been made of Klopp’s feted gegenpressing, but it was the hosts who were almost punished by the early intensity of Bournemouth’s tigerish appetite to chase down anything in a red shirt.
Joe Allen wanted an extra touch in midfield and was caught in possession which allowed Junior Stanislas to glide past Dejan Lovren, however Adam Bogdan was quickly off his line and was able to save with his legs.
Liverpool’s confidence grew, though, and shortly after Firmino had curled an ambitious effort from distance over the crossbar the home side took the lead with a well-crafted goal.
Firmino’s vision was key, having received the ball from Origi in a central position he intelligently split the Bournemouth defence to find Teixeira who saw his audacious backheel beat goalkeeper Adam Federici only for Adam Smith to whip it off the line.
Smith failed to generate sufficient power on his clearance, though, and Clyne calmly swept the ball into the vacant net at the Anfield Road End.
Bournemouth almost responded instantly as Stanislas brought two fine saves out of Bogdan; firstly with a close-range header then a wicked free-kick.
Firmino’s endeavour after the interval should have brought him a goal as he stole the ball off the toe of Marc Pugh and then angled a low shot past Federici’s post.
Liverpool controlled possession in the second half as they looked to close out the contest although Lucas stung Federici’s palms with a well-struck shot from 25 yards.
The Bournemouth goalkeeper earned the applause of the Kop when he was at full stretch to tip a Teixeira free-kick round the post with 10 minutes left.
It is more than 10 years since Liverpool last kept a clean sheet at home in this competition, so the late nail-biting of the home support was understandable.
Matt Ritchie ensured the quip was nibbled when he brought a late save out of Bogdan, but Liverpool’s defence stood firm and extra-time was averted.
Klopp seemed a little uncertain of where the League Cup is on his list of priorities this season, but he need only heed a Bill Shankly maxim that ‘Liverpool Football Club exists to win trophies’.
Bogdan 8; Randall 7, Toure 7 (Skrtel 33; 6), Lovren 5, Clyne 7; Allen 6, Brannagan 7 (Lucas 65; 6); Ibe 6, Firmino 8 (Lallana 87), Teixeira 7; Origi 6
Federici 7; Smith 6, Francis 7, Distin 5, Daniels 6; MacDonald 5; Ritchie 8, Arter 6 (King 71; 6), Stanislas 8 (Rantie 82; 6), Pugh 6; Kermorgant 5 (Tomlin 71; 6).
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