Liverpool returned to winning ways against Bournemouth on Saturday and there was plenty to discuss afterward from the match at Anfield.
Throughout the game there were moments of nervousness and frustration in some quarters, but the eventual result puts the Reds within just three wins of lifting the Premier League title – a rather enormous achievement, three decades on.
The big action doesn’t stop, though, and this game was as much about regaining confidence ahead of a must-win European encounter as picking up three league points.
This Is Anfield’s Karl Matchett (@karlmatchett) speaks with Matt Ladson (@mattladson) and Guy Drinkel (@guydrinkel) to get their thoughts on the best and worst of Saturday’s action, along with discussing the all-important central set-up in midweek.
MATT: There can only be one, the obvious vital three points to get back to winning ways ahead of Wednesday.
Player-wise, it was excellent from James Milner and a wise decision to bring him in.
I don’t believe the claims of Andy Robertson being ‘injured’ and left out for a ‘precaution’. He was involved in full training on Friday and I imagine the plan was always to give him and Trent one game off each ahead of Atletico.
So there are two plusses there, giving Robertson his rest, and Milner getting a full game and putting him in contention to even start in midfield on Wednesday.
And that’s another game-winning goal from Sadio Mane – the only player to score a winning goal since the winter break.
GUY: The first good thing from the Bournemouth game for me was both Mane and Salah performing in the same game.
It’s strange typing this considering our season, but our front three have strangely taken turns being in form this season and with Atletico in the coming days it was hopefully a nice warm-up game for both of them.
My second good thing from the game has to be Milner really, this game has served as a reminder that he can still do it on the pitch as you probably think of him more as a leader off the pitch rather than on it nowadays.
KARL: Milner and the points are the big ones and fairly well covered by the boys above.
It’s worth mentioning the mindset didn’t change and the players didn’t panic after going a goal down. That was important, we stuck to our plan and it paid dividends, especially after we started pressing and passing a bit quicker. I was also happy to see Angry Jurgen on the sidelines after we scored – sometimes we need that ridiculous burst of emotion from him, it’s part of what makes up this Liverpool side and it gets the fans going, too.
I’ll also point to Gini Wijnaldum getting in the box a lot; the ball never really came his way, but we almost always had an extra body in the opposition penalty area and the 8s don’t always do this, so it was great to see.
We’ll need surprise runners to penetrate that Atletico defence midweek and we all remember when Gini got into the area against Barca like that…
MATT: It still wasn’t convincing really was it? All three wins post-winter break have been by a one-goal margin and far from convincing.
Firmino’s form is starting to become a worry and his lack of goals more of an ‘issue’. He, like a few others, looks pretty tired and needs a good rest.
What is really bad though is the thought that this could have been the last time supporters at Anfield saw their side until after the title is won – and I don’t mean because Man City are going to lose three games before we play Crystal Palace.
That Palace game, the next league home game, is in a fortnight and judging by reports it could well end up being played behind closed doors due to coronavirus.
In all the talk of where we want the title to be won, the thought of it being won at an empty stadium is quite heartbreaking.
GUY: Didn’t think I’d be typing this at any point this season but here goes…Fabinho: he’s become a huge concern since his return from injury, and obviously with Atletico on the horizon I’m having serious doubts that we can trust him in such a tight game.
On the ball he seems okay but probably not his elite self, but off it, he’s playing so slowly and without his usual aggression. Before his injury, if I had to use one word to describe Fab it’d probably be ‘committed’ but in his current state he’s anything but that really.
Secondly, Firmino at home is a growing concern as the lack of home goals is now affecting his overall performance, he’s becoming quite sloppy in search of his Anfield goal—here’s hoping he was just saving it for Atletico!
KARL: The atmosphere wasn’t great, was it? Hopefully everyone was just saving those voices for Wednesday!
The main concern for me was how easy it was for Bournemouth to create chances again: two-pass moves down either channel saw them get in on goal, with the midfield just not being its usual blockade self at the moment in the opposition half.
Atletico have better forwards than Ryan Fraser and Josh King; we cannot let them have such easy, open counter-attacks or we’ll be needing to score three or four again.
…and which three should start in midfield against Atletico?
MATT: For me, I’d start Jordan Henderson, but if he isn’t deemed fit then Milner should get the nod.
I expect Henderson to be fine, so the question becomes whether Fabinho drops out or remains.
GUY: As I previously stated I don’t think we can trust Fab in this game, so it leads onto other fitness questions: will Henderson be ready?
If so he’ll obviously play and without Fab in my team I’d play him as the No. 6. Gini picks himself really as his name is written in biro onto to every teamsheet Klopp has printed out, so that leaves the third spot.
I personally think this game suits Naby Keita as he can dribble past their inevitable midfield block, which hopefully creates space for the front three, but as ever with Naby there are so many questions about fitness and availability.
So to cut a long answer into three names I’d go with: Gini-Henderson-Naby.
KARL: I think Milner definitely starts, regardless of Henderson being fit or not. I’d also like to see Naby Keita start but it really depends on how much Klopp thinks he can rely on him after multiple false starts of late.
Given everyone fully fit and taking into account current form levels I’d be saying Henderson deepest, Milner and Keita to start, with angry Gini off the bench and Ox and Fab also there as needed. That’s more midfielders than we’d usually have, so I’d be sacrificing a defensive sub in the knowledge that Gomez or Milner can fill in at full-back.
If Hendo isn’t fit enough to play 90 then Fabinho comes in, if Naby isn’t there then it’s Gini.