Bournemouth (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Daniel Sturridge provided more evidence his fitness problems are behind him after an injury-scarred season, setting up Robert Firmino’s opening goal before adding the second in Liverpool’s 2-1 victory at Bournemouth on Sunday.
The England striker proved to be the difference with Sturridge’s header in first-half added-time putting Liverpool in control five minutes after Firmino had opened the scoring.
That allowed Jurgen Klopp’s side to survive a late Bournemouth rally after Joshua King’s stoppage-time reply towards full-time.
Sturridge was starting his fourth successive Premier League game for the first time in four years. After struggling with muscle and hip problems this season, the forward looks as though he is nearing his best, news which will be welcomed by England coach Roy Hodgson.
The striker had started on the bench in Thursday’s dramatic Europa League win over Borussia Dortmund and was handed a starting chance as Klopp rang the changes, with the manager’s team selection reflecting Liverpool’s demanding week.
Of the starting eleven that lined up against the Bundesliga side, only Firmino retained his place as former Dortmund manager Klopp drew on the fringes of his squad to protect the legs of some of his senior players while Emre Can was ruled out with an ankle injury that will keep him sidelined for four weeks.
Danny Ward, the 22-year-old goalkeeper, came in for Simon Mignolet while youngsters Brad Smith, Connor Randall, Kevin Stewart and Sheyi Ojo also started.
Klopp’s side were hoping to maintain the momentum generated by successive victories and a run that had brought just one defeat in the previous 15 games in all competitions.
Bournemouth, meanwhile, came into the game safe in the knowledge they had long since erased any concerns they might get drawn into the relegation battle and having won four of their previous six games.
Eddie Howe’s side, though, have been less impressive at home in recent weeks, losing four of their previous seven games at Dean Court and were anxious to improve a rare blot on their record for the campaign.
– Unfamiliar Liverpool –
It was perhaps unsurprising given the changes to the Liverpool line-up that it was the home side who started the game in more convincing fashion.
While Klopp’s side struggled to find their feet, Bournemouth quickly began to test Ward who was relieved to see Steve Cook’s header float over from Simon Francis’ early cross.
Midway through the half, Howe’s side again served notice of their aerial strength, this time when Cook’s fellow central defender Tommy Elphick outjumped the Liverpool defence before looping a header into Ward’s arms.
Slowly, Liverpool’s unfamiliar line-up began to click with Randall testing Bournemouth keeper Artur Boruc after a teasing run by Ojo opened up the home defence.
Sturridge had operated on the fringes of the game during the opening stages but finally received some meaningful service when Joe Allen picked out the forward with an excellent chipped pass and it took the intervention of Boruc to snuff out the danger.
The keeper was caught out, however, five minutes before the break when a piece of Sturridge improvisation set up Firmino for the opening goal.
The striker’s back-heel forced Boruc into a full-length save and Firmino was on hand to tap in from close range.
Then in first half added time, Sturridge made it 2-0, rising to meet Jordan Ibe’s floated free-kick and head beyond Boruc.
Sturridge missed a glorious chance to score what would have been Liverpool’s third goal when he chipped wide at the start of the second half.
But his goal proved crucial when Bournemouth finally gained reward for their second-half efforts when King produced a fine finish to halve the deficit in added time.