Liverpool are currently in first place in the Premier League but have returned to the ominous familiarity of a title race against Manchester City, with the slightest slip-up evoking a sense of fatality.
Last weekend, the reigning champions welcomed back Kevin De Bruyne and the Belgian reminded English football of his prowess with a talismanic performance to turn the tide and snatch victory, scoring off the bench before a stunning scooped ball from deep to allow Oscar Bobb to place a last-gasp winner.
The result means that Liverpool are just two points ahead after 21 matches and now know that anything but victory at the Vitality Stadium against AFC Bournemouth tomorrow afternoon could hand Pep Guardiola’s side the opportunity to advance to top spot.
Mohamed Salah and Wataru Endo are both absent on international duty, while this weekend’s clash comes too soon for the returns of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andrew Robertson and Dominik Szoboszlai.
With this in mind, Jurgen Klopp could make just two changes from the team that beat Fulham in the Carabao Cup a week and a half ago.
GK – Alisson
Caoimhin Kelleher deputized between the sticks last time out, in the Carabao Cup, but there’s little question over who will get the nod on the south coast.
Alisson is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world and boasts the best save percentage in the Premier League this season, saving his side many a time with jaw-dropping stops and commanding performances.
PL Goalkeepers 23/24: Top Save Percentage
West Ham United
*Sourced via FBref
RB – Conor Bradley
Alexander-Arnold may be injured but Liverpool supporters need not fear given the recent emergence of Conor Bradley, who has been hailed for his “eye-catching” displays of late by The Athletic’s James Pearce.
The 20-year-old was crowned Bolton Wanderers’ Player of the Season last year after helping them back into League One, and having now overcome injury issues that ruled him out for most of the opening half of the 2023/24 term, he is now thriving in Klopp’s first-team.
CB – Ibrahima Konate
Joel Matip’s season-ending ACL injury suffered in December sparked fears that Liverpool’s campaign had suffered a detrimental blow, but Ibrahima Konate has stepped up and then some.
Stranding at 6 foot 4, the France international is a monstrous presence in the central defence and has won a whopping 38 duels across his past five appearances in the Premier League.
CB – Virgil van Dijk
Virgil van Dijk has been immense since earning the captain’s armband in the summer, returning to his iron-clad best in front of Alisson’s goal.
Cultured and commanding, the 32-year-old is arguably the best centre-back in the world right now and will be crucial in dominating aerially against imposing and in-form Cherries striker Dominic Solanke.
LB – Joe Gomez
Robertson is not yet ready for a return after an extensive injury layoff and Kostas Tsimikas remains sidelined after breaking his collarbone against Arsenal in December, so Joe Gomez will continue to serve at left-back.
The versatile defender was one of the most prominent strugglers in Liverpool’s team last season but has enjoyed a resurgence since the summer and has been an invaluable tool amid the Reds’ injury issues.
DM – Alexis Mac Allister
With Endo competing at the Asia Cup, Alexis Mac Allister should make his first Premier League start in over a month, having recovered from injuring his knee against Sheffield United in December and started last time out against Fulham.
CM – Ryan Gravenberch
Liverpool completed their summer business with the £34m deadline day signing of Ryan Gravenberch from Bayern Munich, offering succour and a clean slate for a player who had endured a torrid time with the Bundesliga champions.
He’s certainly not the finished product but is undoubtedly bursting with talent, ranking among the top 5% of midfielders across Europe’s top five leagues over the past year for shot-creating actions, the top 10% for progressive passes, the top 12% for progressive carries, the top 9% for successful take-ons and the top 11% for blocks per 90, as per FBref.
CM – Curtis Jones
Possibly the most underrated player in Liverpool red, Curtis Jones has been in fine fettle over recent matches and must start against the Cherries, with three goals and three assists clinched apiece since the start of December.
RW – Diogo Jota
Salah’s absence does raise the question as to who is the best fit for deployment on the right wing, and while Harvey Elliott appears the obvious pick, he was more ineffectual than usual last time out – receiving a 6/10 match rating against Fulham by GOAL – and Klopp could opt to field one of his deadliest marksmen.
Diogo Jota has scored nine goals from just 12 starting appearances across all competitions this season, and while he is naturally better placed on the left, his two-footedness and versatility means that he can offer the clinical presence needed to finish off Liverpool’s surging runs, hailed as a “pressing monster” by assistant coach Pep Lijnders.
LW – Luis Diaz
True enough, six goals and two assists across 26 outings this term is not the best tally in the world, but Luis Diaz has had to navigate through various hurdles in 2023 and has certainly looked brighter in recent weeks.
The Colombian was sensational against Newcastle United in Liverpool’s previous Premier League match and made three key passes and succeeded with five dribbles, as per Sofascore, stretching and rending the Magpies’ defensive shield.
CF – Darwin Nunez
Ever divisive, ever electric. Darwin Nunez’s poor finishing is proving hard to shake for the dynamic Uruguayan but he is so effective for Klopp’s side and must start up front against Bournemouth.
Eight goals and ten assists across all competitions by January is hardly a bad return, and his cameo against the Cottagers last time out resulted in two assists to hand his side the advantage heading into the second leg.
Predicted Liverpool line-up in full: (GK) Alisson; (RB) Conor Bradley, (CB) Ibrahima Konate, (CB) Virgil van Dijk, (LB) Andrew Robertson; (DM) Alexis Mac Allister, (CM) Ryan Gravenberch, (CM) Curtis Jones; (RW) Diogo Jota, (LW) Luis Diaz, (CF) Darwin Nunez