Bournemouth 1-2 Liverpool
League Cup Fourth Round, Vitality Stadium
November 1, 2023
Goals: Kluivert 64′; Gakpo 31′, Nunez 70′
Klopp goes big – twice
Eight changes were made by Jurgen Klopp to his lineup, but certainly not to massively lessen the strength of the starting lineup.
Also in were Dominik Szoboszlai, Curtis Jones and Joel Matip – all have been first choice in league play this season at times – while Kostas Tsimikas played, now being the only senior left-back available.
Clearly, the boss saw the match as important to win and indeed as winnable – if we were good and if we had the quality on the pitch.
It wasn’t just a 45-minute plan either, as was evidenced by a triple substitution on the hour mark. It could have been expected that Mo and Co. might depart then, but no, Jones, Harvey Elliott and Wataru Endo were replaced by Nunez, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Alexis Mac Allister.
Most competitions should be winnable for the Reds, fans might feel; but this one, this year, might just be a little bit more important, and a little bit more winnable with Man City already out.
We are in rebuild mode and a spring piece of silverware certainly wouldn’t go amiss. Jurgen didn’t want to needlessly miss out, and he hasn’t.
With three of the switches to the lineup coming at the back, plus another in goal, it could have been the case that we looked ragged, sloppy or lacking cohesion in defence.
And while we certainly had a few nervy moments trying to pass out against the wind at the start of the second half, overall it was a strong showing with a couple of impressive outings from Joe Gomez and Jarell Quansah in particular.
The youngster dealt well with both Dominic Solanke‘s movement and attempts to turn and with Antoine Semanyo’s pace and dribbling ability. In addition, more than once he was the one to break the first line with a sudden surge forward 10 metres or so, opening a gap and picking a decent pass.
Another test for the rookie, and another one largely passed with flying colours – especially an important late header over his own crossbar.
Gomez, meanwhile, was a great outlet down the right first half and produced a couple of big defensive moments, including a header off the line from a corner at 1-0.
Joel Matip certainly stepped up second half and performed well, but as a senior we expect exactly that from him.
Squad options impressing
While not a vintage overall showing, in dismal conditions most players put in a pretty solid showing from a technical standpoint and did a good job tactically.
Endo was a case in point: he looks increasingly comfortable in that deepest midfield role, stepping up much higher than even three or four weeks back in matches, winning possession back quickly and being incisive with passes when possible.
Jones likewise was diligent on the ball and hard-working in his first domestic match back after suspension, while Cody Gakpo continued his comeback from injury with another close-range goal.
Add in those defensive options stepping up to the task with Virgil van Dijk and Co. rested, and it amounted to a very positive workout all around for the squad, showing they can be called upon against top-flight opposition.
Perhaps the one who didn’t really check that box on the night was Ryan Gravenberch, who only really managed to come on and commit a series of fouls to leave the Reds under late pressure – but he has already more than shown he has much to offer, too.
Rotation of roles
Of more interest on the night was perhaps Klopp’s willingness to make a few changes to where the regulars, the seniors, lined up.
Salah, for example, was very much in the centre-forward zone for most of the first half, a bit of a split at times between a diamond midfield and a very free-roaming, rotating right side in our normal set-up.
It was part job-share between Elliott and Szoboszlai, or part the fact the Hungarian had free licence to roam as he wanted: through the middle, high and wide, in and around the English youngster, linking play with Salah.
Then, later after the hour mark changes, Trent came into central midfield; not from right-back, as is usually the case, but actively sitting there and playing at the base. It meant Mac Allister could go forward a little more at times, but also that we kept a back four in place with Gomez still present in Trent’s usual spot.
The options are great to have but it’s also encouraging to see Klopp trying them out in meaningful, but not entirely risky, match moments.
Trophy chances and the call for relentlessness
Looking beyond that, the odds on the Reds to win the EFL Cup were already low; they’ll be bottoming out now after exits for both Arsenal and Man United on the same night as we’ve seen off the Cherries.
The one problem, potentially, is that the last-eight encounter will come between league games against United and Arsenal, neither of which will now have the same midweek game to play, obviously.
Liverpool are looking strong and continue to roll on.