The Reds have counted on their imperious home form on colossal European nights, but it may not bail Jurgen Klopp’s side out against Los Colchoneros
Jurgen Klopp sent a strong message by selecting a strong Liverpool XI against Bournemouth at Anfield on Saturday, given many critics had speculated over his starting line-up in the days leading to the gameweek 29 encounter.
After his cameo in the Reds’ FA Cup defeat by Chelsea, Mohamed Salah was one of the regulars who returned against Eddie Howe’s side, with the Premier League leaders looking to prevent successive defeats in the league and three on the spin in all competitions.
Ideally, Klopp will have wanted his team to score their goals early, preserve some star players by taking them off with Atletico Madridon Wednesday in mind and then let the game peter out in the closing stages.
However, Callum Wilson’s ninth-minute goal silenced an expectant Anfield crowd, with the next minutes dominated by the travelling fans who revelled in their unforeseen lead.
Moments later, Nathan Ake nearly doubled the visitors’ advantage, but his header, fumbled by Adrian between the sticks, went out of play via the bar for a corner.
At that point, you could hear a pin drop in that area of Merseyside as the Cherries, who had lost 23 away games since the start of last season (the highest in the top flight), threatened to end Liverpool’s 21-game winning run at home as well as a 54-match unbeaten home run.
But everything changed…
Salah levelled for the hosts before the half-hour mark after Sadio Mane capitalised on Jack Simpson’s mistake to set up his teammate for his 70th Premier League goal for the Reds.
Only Alan Shearer, at Blackburn Rovers, scored more goals in his first 100 games for a single club than Salah, and has now scored in five successive league games at home.
Mane completed the comeback with his sixth goal contribution in the last four games, but Bournemouth still carried a threat regardless of the champions-elect edging in front.
It took a James Milner clearance off the line to prevent Ryan Fraser from pegging back the nervy hosts midway through the second-half, but Klopp’s side were to hold on for their 27th league win of the season.
In a sense Saturday’s match was a rehearsal for Wednesday night, and while the Merseyside giants found a way to turn the match around, it won’t be so easy against a watertight Los Colchoneros rearguard.
What happens if Diego Simeone’s side take the lead and elect to frustrate and slow the game down at Anfield? Liverpool will need to win 3-1 and look to be solid in defence – something they’ve struggled at lately – for the remainder of the game.
Bournemouth tried to thwart and hinder the world champions on Saturday but aren’t masters of the frustration game and ultimately fell to the loss, owing to two silly mistakes for Liverpool’s goals.
It was the same in the Reds’ 3-2 win over West Ham United, their preceding home game, where two mistakes by Lukasz Fabianski cost the Hammers at least a point after an impressive showing against the league leaders.
Salah and Mane scored in the final 20 minutes to overturn a 2-1 deficit and secure maximum points, but was it truly deserved in a game where David Moyes’ troops created the better chances?
While many are backing Liverpool against Atletico owing to their amazing performances at Anfield on big European nights, logic not emotion should prevail and the truth is Salah and co. haven’t been playing well for some time.
The incredible 4-0 defeat of Barcelona in last year’s semi-final – which saw them overturn a 3-0 reverse in Spain – is lauded as a reason to believe in this side, although the fact it was secured amid a run of 11 wins in 12 games in all competitions, with glowing performances in those games, is often overlooked.
Salah may have scored six times in five games at home this year, which is one positive stat to consider before Wednesday, but the team’s results have turned since the winter break in February, evidenced by a run of three defeats in six games in all competitions.
Indeed, some will even argue that the Reds’ amazing campaign domestically hasn’t been a fair reflection of performances, with many of their wins secured undeservedly on the balance of play.
They stepped things up in their second-half against Southampton in February to win 4-0, aided by a Salah brace, but could and probably should’ve been behind by half-time.
Wins over Tottenham Hotspur, Wolverhampton Wanderers and maybe Norwich City since the turn of the year have contrasted with underwhelming showings, however, Salah and his teammates won’t beat Atletico unless they actually play well and not rely on just the emotion of playing at Anfield to carry them through to the last eight.
Klopp has never lost a double-header in Europe since taking the Liverpool reins in 2015, and the Egypt star has been in imperious form every time he’s crossed the white line at Anfield. It bodes well, but Wednesday night against a dogged Atletico may just be a bridge too for the out-of-form European champions.