Wednesday 24 January 2018

Benteke earns controversial victory for re-built Reds

Christian Benteke scores on his home debut for Liverpool at Anfield
Christian Benteke scores on his home debut for Liverpool at Anfield
Lee Tomlin of Bournemouth holds off Joe Gomez
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers applauds his team
Liverpool's Brazilian midfielder Philippe Coutinho laughs off a missed goal opportunity

Jason Burt

Two games, two wins and two clean sheets. But this was far from perfect for Liverpool, and far from unblemished for referee Craig Pawson and his assistant. Bournemouth left with a burning sense of pride in their performance but an even fiercer sense of grievance as Christian Benteke's first goal for Liverpool should have been ruled out for offside.

The new rules mean Philippe Coutinho had to be penalised in the build-up before Benteke struck but assistant Harry Lennard did not raise his flag.

Cue a debate over an interpretation that leaves things even more open to interpretation and which therefore puts even more pressure on officials who are not allowed to use the necessary technology. Cue also the renewed complaint that the small teams are unfairly treated.

What appeared indisputable is that Bournemouth deserved more than this and that will hurt even more for manager Eddie Howe and his relentless team.

With Liverpool's principal owner John W Henry in the directors' box for the first time since February, their manager Brendan Rodgers will be relieved with the outcome.


Henry and chairman Tom Werner were here to inspect Anfield's expansion. But they also want to see evidence of the on-field reconstruction Rodgers is undertaking. Like three other clubs, Liverpool have six points but they are emphatically in the same unconvincing envelope as Manchester United, who have also gained two 1-0 wins, than the more impressively earned returns of Manchester City and Leicester City.

There has been an extensive overhaul of the Liverpool squad for the second successive summer. How they crave more structure on the pitch after the disappointments of last season.

There were signs of it in the away victory against Stoke City. However, they quickly looked vulnerable in the opening exchanges against a Bournemouth side for whom fixtures such as this one would have been a distant dream not long ago.

Bournemouth have to move on from the fairytale, the heart-warming stories of how they reached the top flight that threaten to patronise them, and quickly show a hard competitive edge.

They grasped the opportunity here after Jordan Ibe flashed a shot wide for Liverpool. Bournemouth broke, earned a corner and the captain Tommy Elphick rose above Dejan Lovren to plant his header into the net. But referee Pawson ruled the effort out, harshly it seemed, as Elphick was penalised for apparently holding Lovren down when he appeared to be simply stronger in his challenge.

Liverpool were nervous. There was so much change to digest and here were the league's new arrivals taking the contest to them. Bournemouth had lost their opening home game but there was no compromise on their attacking approach. They had two strikers and two more attacking players in wide positions. And plenty of pace.

With the construction work, there had been no pre-season game at Anfield, so this was the first appearance at home for four new signings - Benteke, James Milner, Nathaniel Clyne and Joe Gomez. There was also a tinge of disappointment that another, Roberto Firmino, was selected only among the substitutes.

The Bournemouth defence was the same one which played in the club's last game in League One. They continued to impress before, finally, a chance opened up for Benteke, who was able to turn and shoot right-footed from outside the penalty area. The ball dipped narrowly over.

Soon after, Benteke was turning it into the net in what was another controversial moment. Under the new offside rules, Coutinho should have been deemed offside as he attempted to make contact with Jordan Henderson's cross but failed to do so, evidently impacting on what then happened. The ball ran through to Benteke, who poked it home in front of keeper Artur Boruc for his first Liverpool goal since his £32.5m move. The assistant referee did not react and the momentum had switched.

Soon after, new captain Henderson flashed a hooked half-volley that skimmed off the top of the crossbar and Liverpool poured forward again. Bournemouth were a goal down when their effort could have stood, and Liverpool's disallowed. Their fans certainly felt a grievance, as did their players and manager.

Just before half-time Liverpool went close again when the ball broke to Coutinho and he curled it wide having been afforded a sight of goal. He should have done better but a further concession would have been dreadfully harsh on Bournemouth, who attempted to strike back with a low effort from Matt Ritchie. Simon Mignolet easily held on.

Soon afterwards, Ritchie again fashioned space for another shot, but curled the ball over from the corner of the area.

Coutinho's shot was then deflected wide and Liverpool were forced into a change with Henderson departing, injured. Milner took the captain's armband and quickly had the chance to claim his first goal for the club as he reached Ibe's low cross, only to miscue across the six-yard box.


No one could accuse Ritchie of not then striking the ball cleanly. As Bournemouth pushed, the ball ran across the face of the area to Ritchie, who struck a fierce first-time shot that cannoned off the outside of the post. He held his head in disappointment.

But Ritchie, and Bournemouth, were getting closer. He ran at goal again.

This time his shot was charged down but eventually the ball was worked to Eunan O'Kane, who could find only the side-netting from close range.

Liverpool were living dangerously.

Finally, Rodgers introduced Firmino with Liverpool then threatening to increase their advantage - only for Charlie Daniels to charge down two goalbound efforts.

Bournemouth began to apply the pressure again as they sensed they could still claim a point, but Liverpool went closest with Benteke turning Clyne's cross against the bar. Liverpool's best two players had combined.

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