BOURNEMOUTH, England — Three quick thoughts on Bournemouth’s shock 4-3 victory, which ended Liverpool’s unbeaten 15-game run in all competitions.
1. Liverpool collapse spectacularly at Bournemouth
This was a day when the questions about Liverpool’s defending came crashing to the fore. A chance to go within a point of Premier League leaders Chelsea was squandered in spectacular style. Nathan Ake’s injury-time winner was laid on a plate by a catastrophic fumbling error by Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius. Delicious irony lies in Ake being loaned to Bournemouth by Chelsea.
Liverpool were first 2-0 up, then 3-1 up, and then back to 3-3. They were pegged back by a Bournemouth team fired by second-half substitute Ryan Fraser before Ake’s winner. Fraser, a 22-year-old Scot, won a penalty in the 56th minute, scored himself in the 76th minute and then set up Steve Cook for a wonderfully inventive equaliser two minutes after that.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was left to rue the prematch loss of Joel Matip, this season’s leading man in central defence, missing with a “minor” ankle injury. Both Dejan Lovren and Lucas Leiva suffered as Bournemouth stormed back.
Two goals in the 20th and 22nd minutes had soared Liverpool into the lead. Emre Can’s lofted ball found Sadio Mane in space, and his toe poke beyond Artur Boruc gave Liverpool a lead they should already have been enjoying. Ten minutes before, Divock Origi had missed inexplicably when a Nathaniel Clyne pass supplied him with an open net.
Origi made amends in spectacular style in scoring Liverpool’s second, burning onto a Jordan Henderson pass, skipping past Boruc, who had careered from his penalty box, and thrashing in from a wide angle.
“Poetry in motion,” Liverpool’s travelling fans sang, with good reason. Their team looked to have all but won the points. Bournemouth could not rouse themselves until the latter stages of the first half, when Josh King had an angled shot scrambled behind by Loris Karius.
They also had a huge penalty shout when Nathan Ake was brought down in the box by Roberto Firmino’s trailing leg. Ake’s rather theatrical fall probably prevented referee Bobby Madley from pointing to the spot.
There was, though, no question about the penalty they did receive. James Milner held his head in pained recognition after clattering Fraser, and Callum Wilson’s spot kick was cool. Klopp betrayed his state of mind by involving himself in a touchline contretemps with the fourth official and Bournemouth assistant manager Jason Tindall.
Liverpool reasserted their two-goal lead through Can’s rocket of a finish in the 64th minute after a powerful run from Mane, but it didn’t appear to calm Klopp much. Perhaps he sensed what was coming.
2. Liverpool suffer meltdown
Liverpool are having to live without Philippe Coutinho, after the Brazilian’s ankle injury in their 2-0 defeat of Sunderland on Nov. 26 left him sidelined until the New Year. Klopp, forced to reconfigure his team, pushed Firmino out left with Origi the central forward, to lead Liverpool’s pressing game from the front. As well as scoring that excellent strike, the Belgian menaced Bournemouth’s defence by shadowing their every move.
The loss of central defender Joel Matip, with a far more minor ankle problem, should be of much more concern than Coutinho’s absence as the Cameroon international has been very much the leading light of Klopp’s backline. He was missed terribly here, as Liverpool fell apart in the second half. Four goals conceded in the second half was damning, and the mistake made by Karius to hand Ake his winner was the cherry on the icing of a second-half defensive meltdown.
The preference of Lucas Leiva over summer signing Ragnar Klavan indicated the current pecking order of central defenders, but with Liverpool dominating possession from the start, it also made sense to have a defender who could bring the ball forward as a spare man. Lucas, the club’s longest-serving player, looked to be doing well enough. Then came Milner’s foul on Fraser to set up Bournemouth’s first goal.
Without Matip, and perhaps the leadership Coutinho brings to the team, Liverpool’s mental strength was severely tested and failed dreadfully.
3. Happy returns for Howe
Bournemouth’s celebration of manager Eddie Howe reaching 300 games in charge looked to have fallen flat. Last week at Arsenal, Bournemouth had been unlucky to be on the end of a 3-1 defeat, with Howe bemoaning refereeing decisions after the game. This, though, was a performance of spirit and attacking football that can only add to his burgeoning reputation.
At the Emirates, Jack Wilshere had been ineligible against his parent club, but as Liverpool utterly overpowered Bournemouth in midfield in the first half, he appeared to have made no difference.
Still, the local fans enjoy having a player of Wilshere’s pedigree around. Almost his every touch received warm applause, and his passing range also received rave reviews. Howe’s men play with a noticeably harder edge than they did last season, and Wilshere, whose bravery in the tackle has often been to a level of foolhardiness, was not shirking the physical stuff.
His early problems lay in not receiving enough of the ball, or in areas he might hurt Liverpool. Playing as the advanced man of a midfield three, the game too often passed him by. He was not, by any means, alone in that as Bournemouth struggled before Fraser’s arrival.
Wilshere completed the 90 minutes with plenty of energy, which must please Arsenal and Arsene Wenger, and the England man will also now be remembered as one of the heroes of what must be the greatest result of Howe’s triple century.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.