Bournemouth vs. Liverpool
Venue: Vitality Stadium
Kick off: 4PM
Bournemouth will be the latest team to attempt to stop the Liverpool juggernaut when Jurgen Klopp’s runaway Premier League leaders visit the Vitality Stadium this afternoon.
The Reds have dropped just two points from their opening 15 games to build a commanding eight-point lead at the top, and will be expected to chalk up yet another victory against a Cherries side on a dreadful run of form.
Liverpool have passed every test of their 2019-20 title credentials with flying colours so far, and they did the same at the start of a daunting December on Wednesday night as Merseyside rivals Everton were swept aside.
In a month that will see them play nine times in four different competitions, Klopp took a relatively early and bold decision to rest some key players for the midweek derby as Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Jordan Henderson all sat out.
Combine that with Alisson Becker’s suspension and Fabinho’s injury and it was a second-string side for Liverpool, but still they had more than enough to inflict further misery on their neighbours with their first five-goal haul in a derby since 1982.
Fringe players such as Divock Origi, Xherdan Shaqiri and Adam Lallana stepped up in the absence of the more familiar names, while an effervescent Sadio Mane led the charge with what would have been one of the all-time great derby displays had he converted a couple of sitters to complete his hat-trick.
Nonetheless, the result proved that Liverpool have the strength in depth to deal with such a packed fixture schedule, and also suggested that they would be able to cope with an injury to one of their front three – as they have with injuries to Alisson and Fabinho already this season.
In doing so, Klopp brought up his 100th Premier League win in just his 159th game in the competition; only Jose Mourinho has reached the landmark quicker and no Liverpool manager has ever made it to a century of top-flight victories in fewer games.
The German is fast earning his place alongside the likes of Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley and Sir Kenny Dalglish in the Liverpool history books, but he will know as well as anyone that the class of 2019-20 need to convert this incredible form into a first league title in 30 years if they are to go down as true club legends.
Statistically, this side has already surpassed their many great predecessors in a number of facets, the latest of which came against Everton as they made it a club-record 32 Premier League games unbeaten – only two teams in the competition’s history have ever enjoyed a longer spell.
Klopp has repeatedly insisted that such records mean very little to him, though, with his sole focus on the next game and how Liverpool will recover in time to face Bournemouth.
For all of their near-perfection as far as results are concerned, there are still a number of imperfections to iron out in terms of the performances, not least in defence where their wait for a clean sheet extended to 13 games across all competitions with the two soft goals they shipped against Everton.
It is a run which stretches back to September, although they are yet to be punished for that leaky record and, as long as they continue winning, it is likely to be of secondary importance for Virgil van Dijk and co.
The Reds have now won an incredible 23 of their last 24 Premier League games, drawing the other, including 14 wins from 15 so far this season to amass 43 points from a possible 45.
Even Leicester City’s own club-record winning run of seven in a row has therefore had minimal impact on the top of the table, where the gap to the Foxes remains eight points and the lead over champions Manchester City is still 11.
Such a relentless winning habit will not only build confidence in the Liverpool camp but also sap away at those in the distant chasing pack, although complacency has not been allowed to creep in in the meantime – largely because they have had to work so hard for most of their wins.
Five of their six away league wins this season have been decided by a single goal, which may provide a glimmer of hope for a Bournemouth side that has relied mainly on their home form over the past couple of months.
The Cherries had gone four home games unbeaten before their most recent Dean Court outing against Wolverhampton Wanderers, including a 1-0 triumph over Manchester United which they will no doubt look to draw confidence from.
That November 2 victory remains the last time they picked up any points, though, with all four matches since ending in defeat – to Newcastle United, Wolves, Tottenham Hotspur and most recently Crystal Palace.
Eddie Howe’s side would have viewed at least two of those games as winnable, and it was Tuesday’s loss at Selhurst Park which was the most disappointing as Bournemouth failed to take advantage of Palace playing with 10 men for more than 70 minutes.
Fortunately for Bournemouth, their form prior to this slump means that they have not slipped too far down Premier League table, but a turnaround in fortunes is desperately required with only two points now separating them from the relegation zone.
The Cherries face Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal in three of their next four games, though, and with such congestion in the middle of the table it is entirely feasible that they could be spending Christmas in the bottom three.
Howe has more than enough credit in the bank to ensure that no serious questions will be asked of his future despite Bournemouth’s poor form coinciding with sacking season.
However, his side have never suffered five successive Premier League defeats before, and should that fate befall them on Saturday then their odds of seeing their top-flight run come to an end will edge that bit shorter.
Of course, not many will be expecting them to get anything against a Liverpool side in such ruthless form, but even a draw against the league leaders could be enough to give the team a much-needed boost.
Bournemouth possible XI: Ramsdale, Stacey, Mepham, Ake, Rico, Groeneveld, Lerma, Billing, Fraser, Solanke, Wilson.
Liverpool possible XI: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Henderson, Keita, Salah, Firmino, Origi.