Liverpool squeeze out win over Bournemouth on questionable offside decision
Liverpool maintained their perfect start to the Premier League season Monday night at Anfield, but their 1-0 victory over Bournemouth will continue the debate over how the offside rule is interpreted in England.
Christian Benteke, one of several big summer signings for Brendan Rodgers, scored on his Anfield league debut to give his side full points, but there was a question over whether teammate Philippe Coutinho should have been flagged for offside as he attempted to play at Jordan Henderson's cross which created the goal.
It was the second time in the first half that Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe will certainly have felt that referee Craig Pawson and his assistants did his newly-promoted side no favors but any post-match complaints will not change the fact that his hard-working team has been on the wrong end of successive 1-0 scorelines on their ascent to the highest level of the English game.
"It's a clear offside and for that to be missed, with this new rule, it does leave a bit of a bitter taste," Howe said. "I would like to speak to the officials and get their views on the two main incidents in the game."
For Liverpool, the three points allowed them join leaders Manchester City, Leicester City and Mancherster United as the only teams with full points after two weeks of the new season, goal-difference has them tied with United in third place behind the other two.
Bournemouth remained one of only two sides without a point, but they are above last-place Sunderland on goal-difference.
Before the contentious goal, Pawson had ruled that Tommy Elphick made enough contact with defender Dejan Lovren to disallow Elphick's header to a corner from the right which wound up in the back of the Liverpool net. Replays showed that Elphick did have his hands on Lovren as he rose in the fifth minute to direct the ball beyond Simon Mignolet, but on another night that decision might have gone in favor of the attacker.
While Liverpool had to absorb some early pressure from the visitors they eased their way into the affair and when Benteke put them on top in the 26th minute the goal came after he had begun to cause real problems for the Bournemouth defense. First, his shot from long range went over the bar, then he was the target man for a cross which had to be gotten away at the last moment and conceded the corner from which the Reds scored.
There was no question about the way Henderson kept the corner alive with a wonderful pass across the face of the goal that ultimately allowed Benteke to touch the ball home at the far right post. What Bournemouth fans -- and neutrals -- will wonder, though, is how Coutinho, in an offside position and making a definite attempt to play Henderson's ball was not flagged for offside interference in the play before Benteke scored.
He wasn't and the argument over what constitutes involvement in the play will no doubt be part of the post-match conversation. How Premier League referees and assistants are interpreting the role of offside players in goal-scoring situations has come under wider scrutiny and was expected to be an early-season talking point even before Monday's decision.
"One, I haven't see the replay yet, and two, it's a goal," Liverpool manager Brendan Rogers said. "It's very difficult, the interpretation changes every year, but the most important thing is it was a goal and we won 1-0. That's all that concerns me."
Liverpool used their goal as a springboard to take more control in midfield and might have had another before intermission but Henderson slashed one over the bar from 18 yards on the half-hour and Coutinho, running smartly onto a loose ball in the box, slid his shot wide of the far left post just before halftime.
The Reds then lost Henderson seven minutes into the second half when he was taken off due to a left ankle problem. Newcomer James Milner inherited the captain's armband when Emre Can came on for Henderson. There was no immediate word on the extent of the injury but it was apparent that Liverpool missed their captain's influence after his departure.
Matt Ritchie was the Bournemouth danger man, having an early chance, then firing one just past the near right post on the hour mark and there was always a willingness to get forward. But the chances were not frequent enough to worry Mignolet as Liverpool continued to maintain their grip on the result even if they were rarely troubling Artur Boruc in the visitors' goal.
Liverpool made sure that their margin would be safe with consistent defensive work in midfield and out wide as they contained the Bournemouth attempts to use their own aggressive creativity to get back level. Benteke hit the crossbar in the closing minutes and a free kick was wasted by Milner as Liverpool finished with the better looks but without another goal.