Thursday 18 December 2014 21:08, UK
After Raheem Sterling rediscovered his composure to see off Bournemouth, Brendan Rodgers will be encouraged that his new system can help Liverpool beat Arsenal on Sunday, writes Matthew Stanger...
Despite being billed as a tough test for Liverpool, the League Cup trip to Bournemouth provided a welcome distraction following the double disappointment against Basel and Manchester United. The Reds were rattled by the hosts' bright start, but soon settled to display their Premier League class and cruise into an insurmountable lead. So much for Bournemouth's 12-match unbeaten run that may have caused Brendan Rodgers a few worries prior to kick-off.
Similar to Liverpool's 3-0 defeat to United, the game was settled by superior finishing. While Callum Wilson and Yann Kermorgant wasted two excellent chances for the hosts, Raheem Sterling remedied his profligacy at Old Trafford to open and close the scoring. It was vindication for both the forward and his manager, offering plenty of encouragement ahead of Sunday's meeting with Arsenal at Anfield.
As Rodgers revealed before facing United, the idea behind his 3-4-3 false nine formation is to inject more movement into Liverpool's play. The Reds have struggled for a potent attacking plan for much of the campaign - particularly in recent weeks as Rodgers has attempted to tighten up at the back - but finally look like posing a convincing threat, despite failing to beat David De Gea on Sunday.
On this occasion, Sterling's intelligent runs proved decisive. Replacing Rickie Lambert at the point of Liverpool's attack, the 20-year-old offers an entirely different approach to the target man - but it is one seemingly more suited to Rodgers settling on a balanced system. That was evident as Sterling ghosted into the box to finish off a 51-pass (or 52, depending on who was counting) move for the opening goal, in which every Liverpool player apart from Brad Jones had a touch.
However, it was his second strike that hinted at a return to last season's explosive attacking play. After Kolo Toure made a smart pass out of defence to Adam Lallana, Sterling cut in from the right, pointed to where he wanted the ball, twisted poor Tommy Elphick inside out and then fired into the corner. In three passes the Reds covered the length of the pitch to make the result safe; it was the sort of incisive move that became so familiar in the previous campaign.
Predictably, there were several nervy moments in the Liverpool defence after Dan Gosling's strike threatened a fight-back, yet on the whole Rodgers will be satisfied with his team's performance. Some will argue 'it was only Bournemouth', but that shouldn't deter the Reds as they attempt to rebuild their confidence. A convincing win over the Championship leaders to set up a semi-final against Chelsea certainly isn't a bad place to start.
Watch Liverpool v Arsenal live on Sky Sports 1 HD from 3.30pm on Sunday