Raheem Sterling hits brace as Liverpool book spot in League Cup semifinals
BOURNEMOUTH, Eng. -- A 3-1 win over a Championship side, not even one top of the table and unbeaten in 12 games, isn’t going to convince anybody that Liverpool’s season is back on track. Nor is qualification for the Capital One Cup semi-final. But after such a bad run of late, this was a much-improved performance and an important result vs. Bournemouth for Brendan Rodgers.
Raheem Sterling, having missed three good chances in Sunday’s 3-0 defeat to Manchester United, scored twice, both excellent finishes, while Lazar Markovic, having been sent off against Basel, made his first significant positive contribution since joining from Benfica in the summer.
Liverpool retained the same 3-4-2-1 shape as in the 3-0 defeat to Manchester United on Sunday and, perhaps more surprisingly, the same goalkeeper. Brad Jones retained his place over Simon Mignolet despite being badly at fault for the third United goal.
Sterling was again selected at center-forward, with Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho operating just behind him. The biggest change was at left-wing-back, where the far more attack-minded Markovic replaced Alberto Moreno.
This was the first time Bournemouth had played in the quarter-final of the League Cup, but then most of this season has been a step into the unknown for the south-coast club. It’s never played in the top flight, and was in administration six years ago, but it has risen and risen under Eddie Howe, who played more than 300 games for the club before taking the job in 2008.
He is still only 37 and, apart from an unsuccessful hiatus at Burnley in 2011-12, he has shepherded the club from second bottom of the fourth flight to top of the second. More than that, Bournemouth play bright, attacking passing football.
Liverpool has looked a side short on confidence in recent weeks, and had Bournemouth scored early what little self-assurance they had left may have collapsed. It very nearly did as well, as some trickery in the box created a third-minute chance for Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson, but having seemingly done the hardest part, he prodded his shot nervously wide.
It soon became apparent, though, that Bournemouth was struggling to come to terms with Liverpool’s shape. Lallana, finding space outside the box, drew a flying save from Artur Boruc in the fifth minute and that seemed to settle the nerves. When the opener came, it was brilliant and could be seen as a vindication of Rodgers’s selection.
Liverpool held the ball for over two minutes – 51 passes – before Markovic crossed to Henderson, arriving behind the defense at the back post – wing-back passing to wing-back. He headed the ball across goal and Sterling, who had gotten away from Tommy Elphick, glanced in a deft header.
Wing-back isn’t Markovic’s natural position, but he reveled in the role, and added the second after 27 minutes. He released Coutinho on the left and when the Brazilian shot from a narrow angle, the ball cannoned off Boruc to the edge of the box, from where Markovic sent a controlled finish into the bottom corner, his first goal for the club.
It was a well-taken goal, but Liverpool benefited from what seemed to be a whistle blown from the end where the Bournemouth fans were massed; Elphick stopped, apparently thinking offside had been given, and it was his hesitation that allowed Coutinho space to shoot.
The third arrived six minutes into the second half, Mamadou Sakho playing a quick ball out from the back to Lallana who played in Sterling. He twisted poor Elphick out of the game and slipped a neat finish past Boruc.
Liverpool may have found a potency its been lacking of late, but its defense remains shaky. Yann Kermogant blazed over with the score at 2-0 and, with 57 minutes played, Dan Gosling latched on to Matt Ritchie’s low cross and scored with a shot that went under the body of Jones.
Remarkably, Liverpool descended into panic. Gosling hit the post and while it wasn’t exactly constant pressure from Bournemouth, neither was Liverpool anything like as comfortable as it should have been. And that, perhaps, was the lesson to be learned. Liverpool is still vulnerable at the back but it has the strike power that at times that doesn’t matter – just not as frequently as last season.
Winning the League Cup couldn’t save Kenny Dalglish’s job three seasons ago, but getting to the semi-final at least earns Rodgers some breathing space.