Sturridge's timely strike leads Liverpool's young guns to impressive win
Bournemouth 1 Liverpool 2
It has been quite the week for Liverpool. The 27th anniversary of Hillsborough and the final memorial service to be held at Anfield took place on Friday the day after they staged a historic, emotionally intense comeback to beat Borussia Dortmund and reach the last four of the Europa League.
That meant a trip to Bournemouth, three days before the Merseyside derby, was never likely to be a priority. And so it proved.
Only Daniel Sturridge survived in Jurgen Klopp's line-up for the trip to the south coast and the average age of the team was just 24. But Liverpool have lost just two of their last 14 games and confidence seems to have an alchemy of its own as his young players did the German proud. "I said after Thursday that we have absolutely no chance against Bournemouth with the same line-up," said Klopp of his selection. "The exciting thing for a manager is to give the boys [Daniel Ward, Brad Smith and Connor Randall] their first Premier League game."
First-half goals from two of the Reds' more experienced players, Roberto Firmino and Sturridge, put the visitors firmly in control against Eddie Howe's side. It was a timely reminder from Sturridge to both Klopp and Roy Hodgson, the England manager, and he might have had a hat-trick after twice striking the woodwork in the second half. With nine goals in 14 starts this season, no-one can doubt his quality when fit.
"He's a brilliant player, he was very good. I really enjoyed the performance of Daniel Sturridge," said Klopp, who preferred Divock Origi against his former club on Thursday. "Nobody is undroppable. I decide as a manager if we play with one, two, three or four strikers but he's in a really good shape, mentally and physically."
But this has been a memorable week for Bournemouth too. Reaching 40 points, long regarded as the sure mark of Premier League survival, was hailed by captain Tommy Elphick as "the biggest achievement in the club's history" after the previous Saturday's victory at Aston Villa. "I think I'd agree with those sentiments from Tommy," said Howe. "It probably has been our biggest achievement to date." Bournemouth's history is one that has never included victory over Liverpool, a statistic that they were not able to change despite Klopp's rotations.
Sensing their opportunity to do so, Bournemouth were sharp from the outset with Lucas, a makeshift centre-back, being kept busy by Joshua King. But Klopp's youngsters were keen to make their own impression. Sheyi Ojo and Jordon Ibe were bright on the flanks and Ojo's weaving run culminated in forcing a good low save from Artur Boruc. Liverpool went in front four minutes before the break. Ibe ran at Simon Francis before finding Sturridge, who back-heeled brilliantly to force a low save from Boruc from which Firmino touched home the rebound.
Sturridge, impressive as the lone striker, added a second in the last seconds of the half, heading in beautifully from Ibe's free-kick to put his team in full control.
Liverpool started the second half as they had ended the first and Sturridge wasted a glorious chance to put them further in front after Joe Allen robbed Dan Gosling and put him clean through, only for the England striker to dink his effort against the outside of a post.
Mike Jones waved away penalty appeals when Kolo Toure appeared to handle before King shot fiercely from a tight angle. "It was a difficult one but the referee's made his call," said Howe. "Credit to the players, the second-half performance was better."
The future looks bright for Klopp if this display is anything to go by and none of his fringe players did themselves any harm here, showing industry and composure in equal measure. Always a threat, they came close to a third as Sturridge rattled a shot against the stanchion with eight minutes remaining.
But Bournemouth never gave up and were able to find a goal for their efforts. It came as King lashed a loose ball into the bottom left corner before Steve Cook almost found an equaliser at the death as he headed Marc Pugh's cross onto the roof of the net. "We had a lot of moments when we could have scored more," said Klopp. "They scored the goal but I think we deserved the win."
Liverpool became the first team to win away in the Premier League at 50 different grounds and are full of confidence as they await the visit of Everton on Wednesday when a vastly different XI are expected to start at Anfield.
Klopp has used 31 players this season, more than any other Premier League manager, but denied that he was prioritising the Europa League with his selections.
"The most important tournament is, and always will be, the Premier League," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)