The German opted to introduce Joel Matip when his star player was replaced due to illness, which went against the strengths of his side
Philippe Coutinho vomited, Jurgen Klopp was almost nauseous by the final whistle and, all in all, Liverpool fans were sickened by the way they failed to see out another game so close to the finishing line.
When Coutinho, scorer of the equaliser following Benik Afobe’s gift-wrapped opener for Bournemouth, had to be substituted through illness on 65 minutes, Klopp threw on centre-back Joel Matip.
The Reds were in the ascendancy at that point both on the scoreboard – courtesy of Divock Origi’s header – and in the flow of the encounter.
“We only thought it made sense to give one more defensive protection in the centre,” Klopp said of the only substitution he made on the night.
“We are usually really brave in situations like this when we really try to win and that’s what we did – we only tried to win.”
Liverpool attempted to secure victory, but in exactly the way they have struggled to: by putting the emphasis on defence rather than continuing to play to their strengths.
With their creativity already massively stunted due to the injury-enforced absences of Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana, the decision to further diminish it with a ‘safe’ change when Coutinho went off was detrimental.
Naturally, the Reds dropped deeper and that encouraged the visitors to seek out a leveller. With three minutes of normal time remaining, Steve Cook’s long throw-in caused uncertainty in the area with Liverpool failing to adequately clear their lines thrice and Joshua King spun Ragnar Klavan with ease to make it 2-2.
“I think the game changed when they had the lead to protect,” Eddie Howe explained post-match.
“We grew into the game from there and that gave us confidence.
“I always thought that if we could continue to put pressure of them then we may well get the chance we needed and that’s how it panned out at the end.
“It was human instinct for Liverpool to sit back on what they had.”
Howe felt the formation change itself didn’t lead to swing in the game, but the move to put on Matip did alter the mindset of both sides: Bournemouth read it as an invitation to test the ‘let’s hold’ mentality, the hosts focused more on protecting rather than adding to their slender advantage.
There is, of course, absolutely nothing wrong with that tactic if you’re well skilled in soaking up pressure and ensuring the three points are stitched up. Liverpool, famously, are not.
What else could Klopp have done? The German’s assertion that 25 intensive minutes was too much to ask of a returning Daniel Sturridge was quite understandable when considering his fitness issues.
There is also some sense in Marko Grujic not being the option given he hasn’t kicked a ball competitively for the senior side since the end of November.
But Klopp had Trent Alexander-Arnold – impressive in his cameo against Everton – and Ben Woodburn, his choice to replace an off-colour Coutinho when Liverpool were chasing the game at home to Burnley, on the bench.
There was also the chance to push James Milner further forward, something the manager alluded to pre-match, with Alberto Moreno coming on at left-back or Nathaniel Clyne switching to that flank with Alexander-Arnold on the other.
Before the substitution, Bournemouth were not offering any kind of scare to prompt the need for a third centre-back. Perhaps Liverpool were aware their openness in the reverse fixture allowed Howe’s side to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 triumph in the final 15 minutes.
But Klopp is the greatest advocate of assessing games individually, and with 65 minutes played at Anfield on Wednesday night, it seemed counter-intuitive to go against the team’s strong suit when the visitors weren’t forcing such a change.
There was still so much football to be played and a more positive switch followed by a controlling one seemed more sensible.
Correctly, the Reds boss concluded afterwards that “with three points, we would feel completely different, but it would have been pretty much the same game”.
Klopp, however, got it wrong with his substitution – and Liverpool need to be sharper on the pitch and in the dugout to secure a top-four spot.