It seems that the only thing that could possibly derail Jurgen Klopp’s imperious Liverpool is winter fixture congestion but maybe the Premier League champions-elect have the measure of that, too.
What started with the omission of Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino against Everton last Wednesday continued on the south coast with Sadio Mane left to cool his heels with the other substitutes.
Once again it didn’t seem to make much difference. Klopp’s gentle squad rotation ahead of a period that will add the Carabao Cup, Club World Cup and FA Cup to the already considerable demands of the Premier League has not interrupted a flow of results that grows increasingly impressive.
Against Bournemouth Liverpool’s stand-out players were Naby Keita, Joe Gomez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. None are certain starters in a first-choice XI but all three were exceptional and if it is squads rather than teams that win titles then Klopp can take great heart.
‘It’s not difficult for me to leave players out,’ said Klopp.
‘I didn’t speak to Sadio about it. I didn’t speak to Divock Origi. I didn’t speak to Bobby or Mo last week. I didn’t speak to Hendo [Jordan Henderson].
‘I didn’t ask. I just have to make decisions and then next time everyone knows someone else will play.
‘The boys are a really smart group who look at the schedule. They know how it is.’
With Manchester City losing on Saturday evening, it appears Leicester are now Liverpool’s remaining challenger as they look to win their first title since 1990. It would be some shock if Liverpool didn’t do it. This was their 33rd league game without losing.
They were far too good for Bournemouth, a team that have now lost five league games on the spin for the first time since Eddie Howe led them in to the Premier League.
Oxlade-Chamberlain scored the first goal in the 35th minute before a backheel by Salah played Keita in for the second nine minutes later. In the second half Liverpool played at strolling pace but still scored again, Keita making a smart interception before rolling a lovely pass through for Salah to score.
Having arrived amid much fanfare in the summer of 2018, Keita’s progression at Anfield has been a slow burn. Frankly, he has been disappointing. But here the Guinean midfielder was superb, breaking up play regularly and using the ball well.
Afterwards, Klopp revealed he has had to reassure the 24-year-old of his place in his plans on more than one occasion.
‘Naby has been sitting outside [the team] thinking “Why don’t I play?” and I get all that,’ said Klopp.
‘We spoke a lot about it but in the end the player needs to know that the coach still believes in you. There was never doubt about that which was really nice.
‘I didn’t doubt him, not at all. He was just unlucky in life. He started really well but he needed luck and then he got injured.
‘We started again in pre-season but he was not 100 per cent fit again. But I was never in doubt about his quality.’
Bournemouth were in the game until Nathan Ake went off with a hamstring injury just after half an hour. Liverpool scored immediately — Oxlade-Chamberlain running on to a lovely long pass by Henderson — and the home team’s day went downhill quickly after that.
Howe looked worried afterwards and suggested his team’s current travails represent the biggest problem he has faced at the club in recent times. Nobody expected to say it but Bournemouth look set for a relegation battle.
‘You have to be realistic and face it,’ said Howe. ‘You can’t hide or not talk about it. Every season we have been in a relegation battle but we have just never been below the line.
‘We are in a relegation battle now so let’s talk about it and get everyone where they need to be. The players do have the character, but it’s the confidence and the belief that they need.
‘They all think they are good enough but collectively they must feel the same. They cannot moan or whine, we have to be positive and find a way back.
‘They are hurting. They are good characters and good people. They want to do well and they want to achieve. They are frustrated, hurt and disappointed. We just need to respond.’