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Raheem Sterling Double Helps Liverpool Recover Poise Against Bournemouth

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LIVERPOOL at last have some respite. A side left traumatised in the Champions League and so horribly off the pace in the top flight have conjured some conviction in the Capital One Cup, with a semi-final to follow in the new year. Bournemouth were edged out here, not straightforwardly but ultimately with something to spare, to fire Brendan Rodgers’ hopes of claiming silverware. Chelsea remain a daunting prospect in the last four but this may still prove to have been a timely shot in the arm.

Raheem Sterling, his hair freshly clipped and zest and conviction restored to his game, secured the rewards on the south coast that had eluded him at Old Trafford over the weekend to smooth passage beyond the best side at present outside the elite division. Liverpool had too much bite going forward, even with Mario Balotelli resting a groin injury back on Merseyside and Rickie Lambert anchored to the bench, and too much class in their passing through a first period when their dominance was established. A measure of assuredness had returned to their delivery long before the end.

Success at Bournemouth should be placed in proper context and the true test now is whether the same pace and precision can be imposed on Arsenal on Sunday, but Rodgers was justified in suggesting he had seen signs of last season’s effervescence in this display. They will be better for the reminder of their qualities when there is upbeat rhythm to their approach. The goal which first prised the hosts apart stemmed from almost two and a half minutes of blanket possession as Liverpool toyed with their rivals, probing patiently down either flank and steadily eroding their opponents’ defensive discipline.

Lazar Markovic eventually deemed them dishevelled enough to loop a centre beyond the far post where Jordan Henderson had eked space from Adam Smith. His header back was nodded in by Sterling, goal-side of Baily Cargill. Sterling’s first headed goal for the club was the 52nd touch of the move. Bournemouth had been made to look utterly helpless. “A wonderful example of patience, movement and creativity,” said Rodgers. “We showed outstanding quality on the ball, waited for the moment and then seized the chance.” Even his opposite number, Eddie Howe, could only coo at the manner in which his own players had been by-passed so meticulously, outplayed with the panache they normally consider their own.
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Sterling operated again in a role nominally at the centre of a front three but with no wing-backs of reputation to provide natural width or defensive assurance, and the fluidity of the visitors’ lineup worked in their favour here. Championship opposition, even a team with nine wins from their 12 previous matches in all competitions, could be unsettled where cannier Premier League opponents might have found a foothold and inflicted wounds of their own.

Howe bemoaned his team’s inability to retain clean possession in the centre where they were initially outnumbered. He had proper complaints over the visitors’ second goal after a home supporter in the north-west corner of the ground whistled – presumably to choke the Liverpool attack – as Markovic liberated Philippe Coutinho. The home captain, Tommy Elphick, hesitated and turned his back on play, his arm raised, in anticipation of an offside award.

The Brazilian was allowed to cut inside amid the confusion, Artur Boruc blocked his shot at the near post but Markovic was on hand to curl in a first Liverpool goal from the edge of the box. “Tommy stopped because he thought the referee had blown and I heard the whistle myself from the stand, from our supporters,” said Howe. “Sometimes you’re booked for playing on … I’m sure the person who’s done it wouldn’t have meant to have cost us a goal.” Elphick was subsequently teased and tormented by Sterling’s close control as the England forward added his side’s third early in the second period.

Yet, for all that Liverpool were more coherent as an attacking force, their deficiencies at the other end remain. Better sides than Bournemouth would have prospered against this back three; Callum Wilson missed from close range in the early frenzy whipped up by the hosts and Yann Kermorgant blazed high and wide when he should have reduced the arrears after Markovic’s second. With Dejan Lovren retired with a groin injury, those familiar frailties were eventually exposed when Dan Gosling, once of Everton, collected Matt Ritchie’s pass and thumped the fifth goal of this cup run through Mamadou Sakho and Brad Jones.

The midfielder later curled an attempt against the outside of the post and the home substitute Ryan Fraser twice wasted clear opportunities to pull back another. Had the visitors shipped a second, then nightmarish memories of a recent three-goal capitulation might have come flooding back – not least with Tony Pulis present in the stands in his role as a pundit – but Rodgers imposed some control late on. This was much needed, even if the draw for the last four proved cruel.

For now, Liverpool are just grateful in victory once again. Some semblance of order has been restored. – The Guardian

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