Sports Mole previews Saturday’s Premier League clash between Bournemouth and unbeaten Liverpool, including predicted XIs, team news and head-to-head records.
The Reds remain unbeaten in 15 league games so far this season but begin the weekend two points adrift of leaders Manchester City, while Bournemouth sit seventh in the standings.
Much of the pre-match build-up to this contest will focus on title-challenging Liverpool, and that will suit Eddie Howe just fine as his Bournemouth side continue to fly under the radar.
With 15 games of the season gone, the Cherries are eight points and seven places better off than at the same stage of last term, sitting above Manchester United in seventh.
As ever, survival will be the first goal for Bournemouth this season, but they are already more than halfway to the 40-point mark and find themselves right in the mix when it comes to being the best of the rest behind the breakaway top five.
Howe will be acutely aware of how quickly things can change in the Premier League, though, and a recent four-match losing streak served as a timely warning that his side cannot afford to rest on the laurels of their bright start.
Bournemouth did return to winning ways in midweek with a 2-1 triumph over Huddersfield Town – their first victory in the league since October – but Liverpool will pose a much sterner test than the struggling Terriers.
Despite that Huddersfield win, Bournemouth’s defensive record will still be a concern for Howe having seen his side concede in each of their last six games across all competitions, while only Manchester United and West Ham United have conceded more league goals outside the bottom five.
A leaky Bournemouth defence is by no means a new problem, though, and fortunately this season they have more often than not been bailed out by an attack which has scored more than any other team outside the top five.
Indeed, the Cherries have scored in 10 of their last 11 matches across all competitions, with the in-form duo of Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser in particular looking capable of troubling Liverpool’s league-best defence.
Howe will need those two – and the rest of his side – to keep up their impressive performances throughout a difficult December, with matches against Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United still to come before the end of the year, having already faced Manchester City this month.
Bournemouth have lost each of their last seven games against members of the ‘big six’, though, so they may need to lean on some of their early-season points to see them through to the New Year.
Recent form: WLLLLW
Recent form (all competitions): WLLLLW
Only six teams in the 130-year history of English top-flight football have ever amassed more than Liverpool’s current tally of 39 points after 15 games of a season.
However, it just so happens that one of those teams has done so in the very same campaign.
Liverpool can consider themselves unfortunate that their greatest ever start comes in the same era that Manchester City are establishing themselves as one of English football’s best-ever teams, although the fact that they have so far outstripped every previous incarnation of their illustrious history – including all 18 title-winning sides – should also be a source of great pride.
Of course, the memory of such a strong start will quickly fade away if it does not end in silverware, but Liverpool have at least managed to keep pace with the rampant champions so far and victory on Saturday would see them move top of the table for a few hours at least.
The Reds have responded to Man City’s pressure-mounting results with victories over Everton and Burnley in their last two outings, and now they have the chance to turn the tables ahead of City’s difficult visit to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday evening.
Liverpool must first ensure that they hold up their end of the bargain – something which is by no means guaranteed for a team which has won three and lost three of their last eight away matches across all competitions.
However, all of those defeats came in the Champions League and only Tottenham Hotspur have picked up more Premier League points on the road so far this season, with Liverpool winning six and drawing two of their eight matches on their travels.
Back-to-back away wins for the first time since September would also see Liverpool make it 16 games unbeaten at the start of a Premier League season for the first time in their history, and it is a feat only three teams have ever managed before – Arsenal’s Invincibles, Manchester United’s 2010-11 side and Manchester City last season.
The fact that two teams are on the brink of achieving it in the same season speaks volumes about the level of competition for the title this season, then, and Liverpool have so far had to contend with being statistically one of the best teams English football has ever seen – at least after 15 games – yet still not being the best team this season.
It is more of the same when it comes to their defensive record too, with Liverpool having conceded just six goals from their 15 outings, which is the joint-lowest at this stage of a campaign in English top-flight history and only the fifth time it has been achieved.
The Reds have only managed two clean sheets from their last 10 away games across all competitions, though, and they will be aware that any slip-up against an attacking outlet like Bournemouth could be ruthlessly punished by the relentless City machine.
The fact that Liverpool have not yet reached their best this season will provide a curious mixture of concern and encouragement considering they have kept in touch with City, but now would be as good a time as any to finally hit top form with crucial matches against Napoli and Manchester United to come next week.
Recent Premier League form: WDWWWW
Recent form (all competitions): LWWLWW
Jurgen Klopp rotated his side for the midweek win over Burnley and changes are expected again in this match ahead of a huge double-header next week.
Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino were all absent from the Liverpool XI for the first time since May 2017 at Turf Moor, and the trio could miss out again – although Firmino is pushing for a recall after coming off the bench to score.
Mane remains a doubt with a foot injury while Andrew Robertson could also be held back despite likely having recovered from his dead leg.
Bournemouth have been hit with the considerable blow that Lewis Cook will be sidelined for up to nine months after damaging his ACL.
Howe is likely to limit the changes to his starting XI, which means that eight-goal Wilson – who has already equalled his tally for last season – will lead the line.
Bournemouth possible starting lineup:
Begovic; Francis, S Cook, Ake, Daniels; Brooks, Surman, Lerma, Fraser; King, Wilson
Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Van Dijk, Moreno; Fabinho, Keita; Shaqiri, Firmino, Lallana; Sturridge
Head To Head
Liverpool have only ever lost one of their previous 13 matches against Bournemouth in all competitions, although that was a memorable 4-3 thriller at Dean Court two years ago.
Saturday’s match will be only the seventh league clash between the two clubs, with Liverpool having won four of the previous six including both last season.
We say: Bournemouth 1-3 Liverpool
Bournemouth have the attacking quality to threaten Liverpool in this match, but the Reds continue to grind out results this season and the prospect of moving top of the table – if only for a few hours – should be enough to see them get the job done at Dean Court.