Diogo Jota and Darwin Nunez scored two goals each as Liverpool extended their lead at the top of the Premier League table to five points by brushing aside in-form Bournemouth 4-0 on their own patch.
After a tense first half, which Bournemouth arguably shaded, Nunez netted his 100th career goal by finishing off a slick Liverpool move four minutes after half-time.
Jurgen Klopp then made another impactful substitution as Cody Gakpo came off the bench to set up Jota for the visitors’ second goal on the break with 20 minutes to go, before the Portugal forward scored a clinical third 10 minutes later.
Then, with Bournemouth down to 10 men due to injury, Nunez finished clinically from Joe Gomez’s cross to round off the scoring – as Liverpool showed there is life without Mohamed Salah, currently out with a back injury on Africa Cup of Nations duty with Egypt.
The only blot on the afternoon was a potentially worrying injury to Curtis Jones, who limped off in the latter stages just three days before Liverpool’s Carabao Cup semi-final, second leg away at Fulham, live on Sky Sports.
But the manner of the result, with Bournemouth’s Dominic Solanke kept quiet as well, was the latest example to prove why Liverpool – missing Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Dominik Szoboszlai – are capable of taking the Premier League title away from Manchester City this season.
Salah may return to Liverpool for injury rehab, says Klopp
Mo Salah may return to Liverpool to continue his rehab on a back problem, Jurgen Klopp has revealed.
Salah picked up a hamstring injury in Egypt’s 2-2 draw with Ghana in their second Africa Cup of Nations group stage game, with his country confirming he will miss his side’s next two matches.
However, the Liverpool manager isn’t sure if Salah returning to Liverpool is “set in stone”.
Klopp also says if Salah were to get fit and Egypt were to reach the Africa Cup of Nations final there isn’t anything to prevent him heading back out to the Ivory Coast for the final part of the tournament.
Asked if this could be a special season for Liverpool, captain Virgil van Dijk told Sky Sports: “Hopefully. You need a bit of luck, you need no injuries, you need good results. So far, so good.
“But you see today, Curtis is maybe injured. We saw Mo (Salah) go off in the Africa Cup of Nations. These things don’t help but let’s see.
“We take each game as it comes, as we always done in the past as well. We have to keep the momentum and confidence. We’ll see what it brings at the end of the season.”
Bournemouth: Neto (7); Aarons (5), Zabarnyi (6), Mepham (5), Hill (6); Cook (5), Christie (5); Tavernier (6), Kluivert (6), Solanke (5), Sinisterra (5)
Subs: Kelly (5), Scott (6), Brooks (6), Billing (n/a), Moore (n/a)
Liverpool: Alisson (7); Bradley (8), Konate (9), Van Dijk (8), Gomez (8); Mac Allister (8), Jones (7), Elliott (6); Diaz (6), Nunez (8), Jota (9)
Subs: Gakpo (7), Gravenberch (6), Clark (n/a), Beck (n/a)
Player of the match: Diogo Jota (Liverpool)
WATCH: Liverpool’s clinical goals at Bournemouth
A four-midable day for Liverpool
Bournemouth came into the game as the most in-form Premier League team over the last eight games and began it full of confidence.
- Bournemouth started James Hill for his Premier League debut after being recalled from Blackburn. Chris Mepham came in for Marcos Senesi, with Hill starting over the returning Lloyd Kelly from injury.
- Liverpool recalled Alisson Becker in goal after Caoimhin Kelleher took over for Carabao Cup duties. Darwin Nunez started over Ryan Gravenberch.
A smart short corner saw Marcus Tavernier and Ryan Christie play a one-two along the byline, with the former forcing Alisson into a smart save at the near post.
Liverpool then stepped on the gas and took control of the middle of the half. Alexis Mac Allister had two long-range efforts, one whistling wide of the far post and the other straight at Neto. Luis Diaz and Nunez both put similar efforts straight down the Bournemouth goalkeeper’s throat.
Justin Kluivert escaped serious punishment for a high tackle on Diaz – which VAR did not look at – before the Cherries winger fashioned the best chance of the first half.
Kluivert got to the byline and pulled a cross back towards Solanke and Christie, with neither able to apply a goalscoring touch from close range.
Liverpool made Bournemouth pay for not taking that chance just four minutes after half-time. The impressive Ibrahima Konate played a stunning pass into Jones, who found Jota with a slick pass in the box.
Jota rolled the ball to Nunez in space – and not even the much-maligned forward could miss from there.
Bournemouth tried to respond instantly but Kluivert’s shot from the edge of the box was deflected over. At the other end, young Liverpool full-back Conor Bradley saw a header deflected wide, then had a shot well-saved by Neto from the resulting set-piece.
But Liverpool did eventually make it two with 20 minutes to go. As Jota won the ball in the half-way line, fed Nunez, got on the end of Gakpo’s pass to finish at the near post – via help from the woodwork.
Solanke fired straight at Alisson as Bournemouth searched for a way back but Jota ended the hosts’ hopes as Bradley crossed for the Liverpool forward who miscued with his first attempt before scoring with his second.
Klopp had some nervy moments as Jones limped off, then Bournemouth substitute David Brooks put a one-on-one wide.
But the last laugh went to Nunez as he stretched and connected with Gomez’s late cross from the right to score from in off the post. A four-midable day for the Merseysiders.
Klopp: Liverpool need to improve start of games
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp called for improvement from his side – despite the comfortable win – after reflecting on the first half which ended goalless.
The German also rebuffed questions about the title race, when asked about the five-point lead at the top of the table.
“It’s much better being in that position than any other position,” he told Sky Sports. “We play in three days again and again so we have to get through this period and we need players back.
“When we have momentum, we are good. When we start like we did today, we are not good. So we should make sure we should start games with better rhythm. Because it’s not an attitude things, the players want to [start better].
“The second half was much better. The opponent was in a good moment and I actually thought we made a bad start. We gave them momentum unnecessarily.
“We were not flexible enough, went long when we should have gone short and short when we should have gone long.
“The left side was completely static. But I told the boys at half-time it was good news. We hadn’t been great but it was still 0-0.
“We changed formation and all of a sudden we were much more fluent. The support for the front line was much better. We were calm.”
Iraola: Injuries may mean new signings
Meanwhile, Bournemouth manager Andoni Iraola praised the added intensity brought by Liverpool into the second half and admitted the Premier League leaders were the better side throughout.
“I think they were much better in the second half and were much more intense. They were winning the second duels and were much more clinical. We had corners and some shots but didn’t score the goal when it was still 0-0. In the end they were better.
“We have to be at our best to compete with this opposition. We kept the game quite level for a while but as soon as we conceded the first goal probably, they did things more quickly and they made us pay.
“They were more intense. We weren’t so aggressive or made the fouls that we needed to make. The physicality they put into the game you have to match. We did this for a lot of minutes but didn’t keep that level.”
Iraola also said injuries to the defence may force his club’s hand in the final nine days of the January transfer window.
“I think we will lose Max Aarons as we played with 10 men. He felt something,” he said. “You never want injuries but especially with [other full-backs out] you don’t want. Now we have to think.
“We have another cup game close and we will have to see who is available. We will be thin in this defensive side.”
Asked if a signing is likely, he replied: “Yeah, probably we will need a new player because we are thin right now. I don’t know what will happen as there are still quite a few days in the market but right now we are thin.”
Analysis: No Salah, no problem for Liverpool
Sky Sports’ Sam Blitz:
Man City have Kevin De Bruyne back, Arsenal scored five the day before. Liverpool were set up for a tough night without Mohamed Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold at in-form Bournemouth – but came through.
Doubles for Diogo Jota and Darwin Nunez made up for Salah’s absence. Assists for Conor Bradley and Joe Gomez from the right did the same for the absent Alexander-Arnold.
But as has been said all week, Liverpool’s biggest asset is Jurgen Klopp. Moving Nunez more central from the “static” left-hand side for the second half proved the trick to unlock the Bournemouth defence. Bringing on Cody Gakpo brought the second goal – and from that point it was job done.
Liverpool have also fixed their problem in defence. Ibrahima Konate was imperious at the back with Virgil van Dijk and kept the red-hot Dominic Solanke almost silent.
Manchester City were not the same when key players such as Rodri and De Bruyne were out. Arsenal do not have Liverpool’s wealth of attacking talent. There are signs, just signs for now, that Liverpool could be the title favourites…
Bournemouth’s next game is at home to Swansea in the FA Cup fourth round on Thursday January 25; kick-off 7.45pm.
The Cherries then travel to West Ham in the Premier League on Thursday February 1; kick-off 7.30pm.
Liverpool are next in action at Fulham in the second leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final, with Jurgen Klopp’s side taking a 2-1 lead into the match on Wednesday January 24, live on Sky Sports; kick-off 8pm.
Liverpool then host Norwich in the FA Cup fourth round on Sunday January 28; kick-off 2.30pm.