Georginio Wijnaldum urged Liverpool to “keep it going” after the Dutchman dragged himself off his sickbed to help the Reds’ get their title bid back on track with a 3-0 win over Bournemouth.
The Holland midfielder had been struggling with sickness in the 48 hours leading up to Saturday’s match, resulting in being ordered by the doctor to stay away from the team hotel the night before the game.
And even though he was still affected during the clash he played a key role, including a brilliant lob over Artur Boruc for Liverpool’s second.
“Thursday night I had a tablet from the doctor for my knee. It was a tablet that could induce stomach pains,” said Wijnaldum, was named man of the match.
“I took it and I had a pain and thought it was from the tablet. In the end I was vomiting and everyone was a little bit scared.
“I didn’t train on Friday and I didn’t sleep at the hotel either because they thought I might infect other players.
“The manager called me and said ‘Do you think you can play?’ I said I was as positive as I can. In the morning I was still weak and had diarrhoea.
“The tablets helped a lot but even at half-time I had to run off to get to the toilet. I was like ‘Oh no!’. I ran inside and I managed to control it!”
Wijnaldum’s return to the side after missing Monday’s draw at West Ham made a significant difference against Bournemouth.
However, what was more important was getting back to winning ways after back-to-back 1-1 draws against the Hammers and Leicester had left critics questioning their mettle for a fight.
Liverpool’s win saw them return to the top of the Premier League, although Manchester City regained first place on goal difference following Sunday’s thumping 6-0 win over Chelsea.
“We had two draws in a row and that didn’t feel that good,” he added.
“But if we had been told that at the beginning (of the season) you will have this kind of points (65) everyone would have taken it.
“It could be better but we must appreciate where we stand.
“You can see the improvement. You could see at the beginning of the season we improved. We just have to keep it going.”
Liverpool head to Marbella for a warm-weather training break as they are not involved in next weekend’s FA Cup, meaning they return to action in the Champions League at home to Bayern Munich on February 19.
Wijnaldum is optimistic they can realistically fight on two fronts.
“We have to see how it is going to work. I think we can play both,” he said.
“You never know but a lot of times it goes well. Last season the Champions League went well and we dropped a lot of points in the league.
“But I don’t think it was because of the Champions League.”
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Sadio Mane, Georginio Wijnaldum, and Mohamed Salah powered Jurgen Klopp’s side to a 3-0 win that took them back to the top of the table, three points clear of Manchester City, showing that for one afternoon at least, all the pressure of being the hunted team in the title race was not weighing on their minds.
Here’s a look at the talking points from the game.
NERVES? WHAT NERVES?
Dropping points in two straight games, and allowing City to catch them up at the top of the league table – albeit only after playing an extra game – had led many to question whether Liverpool were suddenly struggling under pressure.
On Saturday’s evidence, the answer is an emphatic no.
This was a complete display, with the defence that hadn’t kept a clean sheet in three straight games, and had only managed it once in 2019, looking more like the unit that had conceded just seven times in its first 19 league games, rather than the one that had conceded eight in its last six.
Up front, Mane and Salah scored, Firmino got an assist, and the Reds scored more than one goal for just the second time since the turn of the year.
Bournemouth were obliging opponents, it must be said, though they did their best to take the game to Liverpool when they could. But the hosts just had too much firepower, and if anything they may end up regretting not scoring more goals, as they had a chance to make a dent in City’s advantage in the goal difference column – though they have cut that deficit to four.
NABY KEITA FINALLY DELIVERS
While Jorginho has been making the headlines as the summer midfield import who pundits are calling underwhelming, slightly under the radar Naby Keita has been pretty much the same this season, if not worse.
While Chelsea’s midfielder can rightly claim that his impact does not show up on the stats sheet, Keita has largely struggled to have any impact at all.
But Saturday was a much-improved performance. Keita was involved in all three goals, with the highlight being the pass he delivered for Firmino to back-heel into Salah’s path for Liverpool’s sumptuous third goal.
He attempted and completed the most passes of the Reds’ midfield three, ending the game with a passing accuracy of 91 percent, and also had the most tackles of any player on the pitch – a complete performance that epitomised Liverpool’s overall display.
Klopp has persisted with the Guinean midfielder despite the criticism Keita has received, and that faith may be about to pay off if the player can build on this performance, especially in his side’s next game – that pivotal first leg of the Champions League round of 16 tie against Bayern Munich.
Naby Keita made more tackles (7) than any other player on the pitch during Liverpool 3-0 Bournemouth.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 9, 2019
The display fans wanted to see. 🔴 pic.twitter.com/ahC4uXb8LT
HOWE LEFT SCRATCHING HIS HEAD OVER JEKYLL-AND-HYDE ACT
Bournemouth have managed just four league wins since the start of December, and though that does include one stunning performance against Chelsea, two of the other three were against relegation strugglers Brighton and Huddersfield.
The Cherries are conceivably not in any danger of being drawn into that relegation battle themselves, as they remain nine points clear of bottom three even after this result. They’re closer to seventh place than they are to the drop zone, so Eddie Howe is unlikely to be too concerned about whether his side’s Premier League status is in danger.
He will, however, be scratching his head over Bournemouth’s Jekyll-and-Hyde act depending on whether they play home or away. Their form at the Vitality Stadium is bettered only by the home form of the Big Six, with 24 of their 33 points coming in front of their home crowd.
The flip side, of course, is that they’ve managed only nine points in their travels, from 13 games. It’s not uncommon for a mid-table side to be much better at home than away – or for any side.
Howe’s main issue is the defence, which has conceded 17 goals at home and nearly twice that, 30, away. If he can rectify that, Bournemouth could yet make a surge to that coveted seventh spot.
Former Liverpool and England striker Michael Owen admits he did not acknowledge the pressure he played under until he looked back at his career from the safety of retirement.
Pressure is the word which keeps cropping up in relation to Jurgen Klopp’s current squad, especially after successive 1-1 draws against Leicester and West Ham allowed Manchester City to return to the top of the Premier League for the first time in two months.
They are there only on goal difference, having played one match more, but the fact a month ago Liverpool failed to take the chance to go 10 points clear with a win at the Etihad Stadium, and then subsequently missed chances to extend their lead, has led to increased scrutiny of the players.
There was an edge to the Anfield atmosphere just over a week ago when they dropped their first points of the season to a side outside the top six but Owen dismissed suggestions Klopp’s side were struggling to deal with expectations.
“You don’t think about pressure, really. I certainly didn’t,” said the striker, who won the League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup treble with the club in 2001 and next month will play for the Legends team against AC Milan Glorie in an Anfield charity match in aid of the LFC Foundation.
“When I look back on my career I think: ‘Wow, I was the goalscorer for Liverpool and England, playing in World Cups and FA Cup finals’. When you look back you realise there was huge pressure.
“I don’t think players are going to be nervous and thinking there is pressure on them. That is their life. They live like this. It works the other way around.
“When you retire and you don’t have that pressure anymore then you can go a bit doolally because you almost feel you have no purpose in life any more.
“That was what everything was about when you were a player. They won’t be feeling pressure or losing any sleep about things. In fact, the big game players get better with it.”
Former winger Steve McManaman was the first of the new generation at Liverpool to not win the top-flight title, making his debut seven months after the club’s last Division One championship was won in 1990.
He completely dismissed suggestions the players were feeling the heat.
“I think it’s nonsense, to be honest,” he said.
“If Liverpool win by five at the weekend then you aren’t going to talk about pressure, are you?
“These players who have played in World Cups – I know they lost the Champions League final – Mo Salah who carries his country on his own shoulders.”
In the 1996/97 season McManaman’s Liverpool were top with 10 matches to go but won only four, losing three, and the title slipped from their grasp.
“When I looked around the dressing room I don’t think it was pressure. I just think probably we had a little less quality than the opposition at times in big games,” he added.
“I made my debut in 1990 with everybody who had won it (the title). I felt as if it was just the norm, this is what we do.
“It didn’t bother me, the pressure of it being tense games or it being a certain part of the season and needing to get over the line because I was used to it.
“I was used to speaking to John Barnes, to Alan Hansen, to Kenny Dalglish, to Roy Evans and Ronnie Moran, who had been through it loads of times, so it was easy for me.
“This is a different group of players 29 years later. They seem fine and are saying all the right things. They just need a big win on Saturday and it banishes all the talk.”
*Liverpool Legends v AC Milan Glorie will be staged at Anfield on March 23, with proceeds going to the Liverpool Foundation. For details and to purchase tickets visit: https://www.liverpoolfc.com/news/tickets/328746-tickets-liverpool-legends-ac-milan