Liverpool returned to the top of the Premier League with a composed display at Anfield that sent Bournemouth to an eighth successive away defeat.
Three days after Manchester City moved top on goal difference, Jurgen Klopp’s side responded in emphatic style to talk that the pressure of a title race was showing in their performances.
After a cagey opening in which Ryan Fraser tested Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson, Sadio Mane settled any nerves by powerfully heading home James Milner’s cross.
Mane, who looked fractionally offside, has now scored in four successive Premier League games for the first time.
Georginio Wijnaldum had not been allowed to stay in the Liverpool hotel on Friday because of illness but he was in fine form, doubling the lead with a sublime lob over the helpless Artur Boruc.
Moments after the break, Naby Keita and Roberto Firmino combined in a move Klopp called “world class” to present Mohamed Salah with a simple finish from 10 yards, his 20th goal in all competitions this season.
Klopp’s side never looked in danger of losing their lead and moved on to 65 points, a tally which would have been enough for at least a nine-point lead at the same stage of the title race in any of the past five seasons.
Key trio finding form?
Questions had been asked of the ability of Klopp’s side to cope with the pressure of a title race after successive draws.
But here they crushed any hope Bournemouth might have had after a solid opening quarter, and Eddie Howe’s side never looked capable of testing the nerve of the home side once they went behind.
While Mane and Salah again got in the goals, Firmino’s use of the ball was impressive throughout, never more so than when his superb flick sent Salah into the box after half-time, allowing the Egyptian to coolly round off a fine team move.
Salah later rattled the bar from a delightful Firmino reverse-pass and only needs one more goal to reach 50 in the Premier League. Having played in only 62 matches, he looks set to beat Alan Shearer’s record of reaching the mark in 66 games for a single club.
In all, Liverpool had 20 shots, with Mane guilty of missing a free header from 10 yards after the break and Firmino somehow wasting a chance when one-on-one with the keeper late on.
Are Liverpool showing nerves? This result suggests not, though Bournemouth’s lack of attacking ambition in a 4-4-1-1 system provided little for the home side to think about.
But the sight of Trent Alexander-Arnold coming off the bench to end a spell of injury will please Klopp, while his forward line of Firmino, Salah and Mane have now been responsible for 14 of the Reds’ last 15 goals in the Premier League.
If Liverpool are to end their 29-year wait for a league title, that trio will need to maintain such form.
Patched-up confusion for Howe
Bournemouth will look to Alisson’s solid diving save from Fraser early on as evidence they were briefly in this game.
Their defensive set-up looked to be working, with the lack of space on offer between their back four and midfield five proving problematic for their hosts.
But when Mane got across the near post to head home, they simply looked confused as to how to respond.
Given their healthy mid-table status, they had little to lose but still opted for caution.
Without the goals and creativity of the injured Callum Wilson and David Brooks, they were devoid of ideas and looked like a side used to losing on the road.
They have now been beaten in eight consecutive away league matches for the first time since March 1984, when they were in the third tier.
The defeat means only bottom side Huddersfield and second-bottom Fulham – on 48 and 58 respectively – have conceded more than the 47 goals the Cherries have leaked this season.
If Liverpool are feeling any nerves at this point, the run-in looks set to be a fraught one. Bookmakers make rivals Manchester City fractionally favourites at 10-11, with Liverpool close behind at even money.
In their remaining 13 matches, City host Chelsea, travel to rivals Manchester United and entertain Tottenham.
Liverpool must play the same three sides but have the added challenge of an away Merseyside derby to contend with.
And Tottenham face Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea in the run-in, with a north London derby against Arsenal thrown in for good measure.
City reached 100 points in 2017-18 and, at the current pace, it seems this year’s title winners will need to post a points mark in the 90s if they are to prevail.
Man of the match – Georginio Wijnaldum.
Fortress Anfield – Key stats
- Liverpool have only lost one of their 15 competitive matches against Bournemouth, winning 11 (D3)
- Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 34 Premier League home games, winning 24 and drawing 10
- Liverpool’s James Milner has provided more assists in this Premier League season (4 in 21 apps) than he did in the 2017-18 campaign (3 in 32 apps).
- Since his Liverpool debut in August 2017, Andy Robertson has assisted more Premier League goals (11) than any other defender.
‘We have to convince’ – what the managers said…
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp speaking to Match of the Day: “We were not happy with the performances from the previous two games and struggled a bit with set-pieces. There were a lot of things we had to improve.
“We have high expectations and today we won in an impressive manner – we had some outstanding performances on the pitch. Goal number three was world class.
“We wanted to show a reaction. It’s our job not only to come through but to really perform and convince.”
Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe: “I thought Liverpool were very good but we didn’t really deal with their main threats.
“The first goal was offside but we never really recovered. We pride ourselves in never quitting. We lived on the edge a little bit but looked more of a threat in the second half.
“We had some moments early in the match. We looked fine until that first goal went in.”
Both sides have a weekend off next week, with Liverpool facing Bayern Munich in the Champions League last-16 on Tuesday, 19 February and Bournemouth facing Wolves at home four days later.