If Manchester City have the Premier League title sewn up before Christmas at least Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah is keeping Pep Guardiola’s men honest when it comes to the battle to be crowned Player of the Year.
Fleet-footed Salah took his goal tally for an incredible debut season at Anfield to 20 with a brilliant individual effort to help Jurgen Klopp’s team cruise to victory on the south coast and move back into the Champions League places.
Philippe Coutinho, Dejan Lovren and Roberto Firmino were also on the scoresheet as Liverpool rediscovered the swagger missing during their back-to-back home draws with Merseyside rivals Everton and struggling West Brom, which had seen them drop out of the top four.
Manager Klopp again tinkered with his line-up by leaving Sadio Mane on the bench as one of four alterations, taking the total number of changes made by the German this season to a staggering 69.
The visitors started the game in ominous fashion, keeping Bournemouth camped inside their own half almost from the kick-off.
Coutinho took just three minutes to register the first attempt on goal, defying his diminutive stature by leaping above a static home defence and heading over from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross.
The Brazilian was even closer to opening the scoring eight minutes later.
Bournemouth defender Nathan Ake was cautioned for clumsily curtailing Firmino’s jinking run on the edge of the box and from the resulting free kick, Coutinho expertly bent his shot around the wall only to be denied by the inside of the post.
But Coutinho did not have to wait long to give his team the lead as Liverpool made their dominance tell with two goals in the space of seven minutes.
First Coutinho collected the ball 30 yards from goal and gracefully glided away from three Bournemouth defenders before dispatching a powerful low drive beyond Asmir Begovic at his near post.
Bournemouth had barely had time to catch their breath when purring Liverpool doubled their lead in the 27th minute.
Midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum flicked on a corner and Firmino stretched at the far post to keep the ball in play before hooking it back for the stopping Lovren to nod beyond a stranded Begovic.
England international Jermain Defoe should have got Bournemouth back in the game seven minutes before half time.
Liverpool carelessly gave the ball away on the half-way line and Lewis Cook rolled it forward for substitute Junior Stanislas who set Defoe through on goal but the veteran striker crashed his effort against the base of the post.
The let-off prompted an animated reaction from Klopp on the touchline and Liverpool responded with a flurry.
Salah was only prevented from making it 3-0 by a superb reaction save from Begovic after playing a one-two with Coutinho, who scooped a delicious ball over the top of the Bournemouth defence to send his teammate clear.
The move epitomised how in tune Liverpool were as an attacking force.
Bournemouth’s reprieve was short-lived as Salah toyed with home full-back Charlie Daniels before cutting the ball back onto his left foot, skipping away from Ake and picking out the far corner from six yards.
Liverpool picked up in the second half where they left off at the end of the first with Salah almost capitalising on a moment of hesitation from Ake only for the former Chelsea defender to redeem himself with a desperate last-ditch tackle.
Fit-again Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet was a spectator for much of the game but showed his reflexes have not been affected by his recent lay-off by pushing Defoe’s curling shot behind for a corner.
Oxlade-Chamberlain had already blasted a shot against the post when Firmino extended Liverpool’s lead in the 66th minute.
Coutinho worked his way into space from Andrew Robertson’s short throw before sending in a teasing right-footed centre, which Firmino effortlessly glanced past Begovic after peeling away from his marker.
Bournemouth, who face a daunting triple header with Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham between now and Boxing Day, were relieved to see Salah taken off by Klopp for the final 19 minutes.
Eddie Howe’s side will not be the last left trailing in the Egyptian’s wake between now and May.
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