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First team

Media View: Expert insight on Liverpool

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

AFC Bournemouth will be hoping to halt the Liverpool juggernaut when they host the Premier League leaders at Vitality Stadium on Saturday (3pm kick-off).

Jurgen Klopp’s team have lost just one of their past 53 games in the top flight and are enjoying the longest unbeaten league run in the club’s history.

Divock Origi's double and goals from Xherdan Shaqiri, Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum earned them a 5-2 win over Everton last night as they made it 32 games without defeat in the Premier League.

Since dropping their only points this season after being held to a 1-1 draw by Manchester United at Old Trafford in October, the Reds have beaten Tottenham, Aston Villa, Manchester City, Crystal Palace, Brighton and the Toffees.

Liverpool’s only top-flight defeat in the past two seasons came against Manchester City in January, a reverse which ultimately prevented them from winning a first top-flight title since 1990.

Ahead of the clash, afcb.co.uk caught up with James Pearce, who covers the fortunes of Liverpool for The Athletic.

afcb.co.uk: Jurgen Klopp made five changes, one enforced, for the Merseyside derby – what were your thoughts on that?

JP: Like most Liverpool fans before the game, I thought it was a big gamble to change half the team for a fixture that means so much to the supporters.

But you would have to say it paid off handsomely and the fresh legs did the trick. Liverpool were absolutely devastating, especially on the counter-attack and tore Everton to shreds.

Divock Origi (pictured above) and Xherdan Shaqiri, who haven’t played much football this season, were both outstanding, as was Sadio Mane.

It was an amazing night. It was 5-2 but could easily have been seven or eight.

afcb.co.uk: Can you try to second-guess what Klopp will do with his team against the Cherries?

JP: It’s very difficult to second-guess him!

Nobody saw his team selection against Everton coming and it will be intriguing to see what line-up he fields against Bournemouth.

I think there will be three or four changes. Undoubtedly, Alisson will come back in after serving his one-match ban and he will replace Adrián.

Klopp has options. He mentioned that Joe Gomez and Naby Keïta, who haven’t played much of late, have been training well and were in his thoughts. He could potentially bring Gomez into the back four and Keïta into midfield.

He’s also got Mohamed Salah who was completely rested against Everton. He will be desperate to get back out there. Roberto Firmino only came off the bench briefly, as did Jordan Henderson so he’s got a lot of options.

The way Klopp has handled recent weeks would suggest that you are probably looking at another three or four changes for the Bournemouth game because he will also have one eye on an absolutely crucial Champions League game against Salzburg on Tuesday.

afcb.co.uk: Are any key players either injured or suspended??

JP: There’s nothing new from the Everton game but it hasn’t been straight forward on the injury front.

They lost Fabinho recently and he is going to be out for two months. Although it hasn’t cost Liverpool points in the two games so far, he is a big miss because he has been such a huge part of Liverpool’s success and his role in the team has grown over the course of 2019.

Joël Matip, who was first-choice alongside Virgil van Dijk (pictured above), is still missing with a knee injury. Those two absentees would get into Liverpool’s starting line-up if they were fit.

afcb.co.uk: Do you think Klopp would trade winning the Champions League for the Premier League?

JP: Yes, I think he would. Without question, the Premier League is Liverpool’s priority.

It’s almost an obsession on Merseyside and it will be 30 years in May since they last won the top flight which is ridiculous for a club of Liverpool’s stature.

There have been some agonising near-misses along the way, not least last season when getting 97 points and losing just one game wasn’t enough.

Winning the Champions League was massive for this group of players last season because there had been a trophy drought at Anfield.

This season was always all about the Premier League. They have conquered Europe and now need to win the domestic top-flight crown for the first time since 1990.

You won’t get Klopp saying that publicly because he will tell you ‘why can’t we win both?’

Privately, he will share the thoughts of every Liverpool fan which are that the Premier League is by far and away the biggest priority this season.

afcb.co.uk: On current form, who is Liverpool’s player to watch?

JP: Arguably, there is no better player in world football at the moment than Sadio Mané. He is absolutely relentless.

Salah and Firmino haven’t been at their best so far this season and their goal returns underline that. I think fatigue is an issue for both of them having not really had a break for two-and-a-half years due to internationals and summer tournaments.

Mané is in the same boat yet he just seems to get stronger and stronger. His tactical intelligence has improved under Klopp, as has his finishing.

He probably should have had a hat-trick against Everton. He caused them so many problems and he is an absolute nightmare for defenders because he is never static and is always on the move. He is always demanding the ball, he is creative and he scores goals.

Liverpool had four players in the top ten for the Ballon d’Or which shows the calibre of the squad that Klopp has assembled.

In terms of this season, I’d say Mané is probably more indispensable than any other player in the team.

afcb.co.ukHow do you stop Liverpool?

JP: It’s very difficult. I think the teams that have had any joy in terms of stifling them have defended very deeply.

With the pace Liverpool have in their frontline, they absolutely love space in behind and a high defensive line because they can just wreak havoc.

Teams also try to stop Liverpool’s two full-backs from rampaging forward because Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson are key to the way the team plays.

But they come at you from so many different areas. It’s not just the pace and trickery of the front three or the quality of the full-backs.

They have also scored more set-piece goals than any other team in the Premier League. Klopp is very much into his marginal gains so it’s difficult but not impossible.

Liverpool have been involved in a lot of tight games this season when they haven’t had things their own way but the reason they’ve got this hefty lead at the top is that in all those games, they have found a way to get over the line and just edge it.

afcb.co.ukWhat’s your score prediction?

JP: I think there will definitely be goals, there usually are when these two meet. Bournemouth are not in great form at the moment but Liverpool have struggled to keep clean sheets. I’ll go for a 3-1 win to Liverpool.

You can follow James on Twitter – @JamesPearceLFC

Match officials: Chris Kavanagh (referee), Sian Massey-Ellis (assistant), Simon Long (assistant), James Linington (fourth official), Jonathan Moss (VAR), Scott Ledger (assistant VAR).

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