Liverpool wobbled but still set records. They trailed for 16 minutes but nevertheless went 25 points clear. They performed in a manner to suggest they may exit the Champions League this week but took a step closer to securing the Premier League title. A maximum of nine points are needed now.
“If it will happen, it will feel really special,” said Jurgen Klopp, who savoured a comeback. “I love the reaction of the boys. Confidence is not something that you get, put in your pocket and keep for the rest of your life. It comes and goes. There is nothing good in losing games but it makes you aware how special it is to win.”
A team who had lost consecutive games were reacquainted with the winning feeling. They never lost it at Anfield, admittedly. Perhaps it was fitting that Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, the two most regular scorers at this venue, got the goals in a 22nd consecutive home league victory.
The previous best in English football was set by Liverpool themselves in 1972. By overcoming Eddie Howe, Klopp surpassed Bill Shankly, another manager to make Liverpool champions after a long wait.
It required an astonishing, acrobatic goal-line clearance from James Milner to keep out Ryan Fraser’s lob and deny Bournemouth an equaliser. “It was probably my fault in the first place,” said the self-deprecating Milner. “Milly saved our life,” said a more effusive Klopp.
A sporadically entertaining game was decided by errors and Bournemouth made more, ending with their scorer Callum Wilson stumbling and failing to get a shot away when presented with an open goal by Nathan Ake. His supplier was belatedly ruled offside but Howe had his head in his hands.
A sixth straight away defeat looked a respectable result but was fashioned by their failings. “What cost us the game was two moments in our half where we turned the ball over too easily,” Howe said.
The merits of Klopp’s counter-pressing football were shown as Bournemouth were twice caught in possession and Liverpool scurried away to score. If Bournemouth were left looking naive and the weaknesses on the right half of their defence were exposed, they may also have been luckless.
“The hammer blow was to lose Steve Cook,” said Howe. Bournemouth lost their lead after their hamstrung centre-back, whose deputy was partly culpable for two goals. First Jack Simpson’s, Cook’s rookie replacement, was robbed by Mane. He found Salah and the Egyptian arrowed in his eighth goal in five games against favourite opponents.
In the process, Salah became the first Liverpool player since Michael Owen 17 years ago to reach 20 goals in three successive seasons. It was a 70th goal in his first 100 league games for Liverpool, and only Roger Hunt can boast more.
Eight minutes later, Virgil van Dijk intercepted Lewis Cook’s pass and played a defence-splitting ball from the centre circle. He sent Mane sprinting into space and he placed a shot beyond Aaron Ramsdale.
The influential Mane went on to hit the bar with a ferocious long-range effort but Liverpool had defensive difficulties. Fabinho’s struggle for form continued and Joe Gomez endured an awkward afternoon.
This was a fifth consecutive game in which they had trailed. A previously watertight rearguard has developed holes and their porousness should encourage Atletico Madrid in their quest for an away goal on Wednesday. Set-piece problems have developed and, after a corner, Adrian pushed the outstanding Ake’s header on to the bar.
Bournemouth had struck before then. Wilson, who began in barnstorming mode, had the simple task of converting Jefferson Lerma’s low cross. “A devastating counter-attack,” said Howe after Lerma overlapped to meet Philip Billing’s pass, running into space that Andrew Robertson might usually have occupied, but he was a mixture of injured and rested.
The controversy came earlier in the move. Wilson, doing his best Troy Deeney impression, had shoved Gomez out of the way before finding Billing. Referee Paul Tierney did not deem it a foul. An aggrieved Klopp punched the air in the direction of the linesman when Liverpool subsequently struck.
“That happened,” he said. “Would I do it now? No, but in the moment I just don’t understand how it could be a goal. But after the final whistle I was really happy.”