Daniel Sturridge impresses as much-changed Liverpool win at Bournemouth
Liverpool eased to a 2-1 victory at Bournemouth, as Daniel Sturridge ensured he remained in contention to feature for England at Euro 2016.
The emergence of Liverpool team-mate Divock Origi and compatriots Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane have appeared to reduce Sturridge's importance to both club and country.
But the injury-hit striker demonstrated his exceptional natural ability to create their first goal and score the second in the pursuit of the three points that took his team to joint-seventh in the Premier League.
Liverpool remain capable of reaching the top six, and their recent improvement under manager Jurgen Klopp suggests they will finish there if he takes their domestic fixtures seriously enough. A vastly weakened starting XI showed he is prioritising the Europa League, however, and did much to highlight the extent to which Bournemouth under-performed.
Klopp made 10 changes to the team which so impressively defeated Borussia Dortmund 4-3 on Thursday, including giving goalkeeper Danny Ward his debut, but even amid their inexperience, Bournemouth - who appear to have relaxed since last month's 3-2 defeat of Swansea - again played like a team confident their Premier League status is secure.
Their casual approach was demonstrated in the opening minutes when Andrew Surman carelessly conceded possession to Roberto Firmino, from where the Brazilian played in Sturridge - who threatened when goalkeeper Artur Boruc saved his powerful, first-time shot.
If that was a sign of the striker's desire, having been a substitute when Origi started against Dortmund, he showed his undiminished class and belief in the build-up to his team's 41st-minute opening goal.
With his back to goal from inside the area and few opportunities available, Sturridge produced a powerful backheel towards goal that Boruc could only parry to Firmino - the forward tapped in with an ease which was only matched by Liverpool's second, six minutes later.
The promising Jordon Ibe crossed to Sturridge from a left-wing free-kick and the striker headed in under minimal pressure.
In the second half, when through on goal with time and space after Joe Allen's through-ball, Sturridge sent a classy chip beyond Boruc but just against the outside of the post, and later struck the near, left post after creating his own space.
He may reflect he should have ended the game with a hat-trick, particularly with Bournemouth so poor, but crucially he sent a timely reminder to both Klopp and Roy Hodgson that he is a goalscorer of the highest calibre.
For Bournemouth, the only real positive came with Joshua King's exceptional consolation goal in the third minute of second-half stoppage time. After showing his composure to chest and control a high ball on the edge of the area, he turned and powerfully shot into the bottom corner to deny Ward a debut clean sheet.
TWEET OF THE MATCH
"Pity about the clean sheet!!but well done to the lads, players rested and 3 puts in the bag." - former Liverpool striker John Aldridge (@Realaldo474).
Artur Boruc: 6
Simon Francis: 5
Steve Cook: 5
Tommy Elphick: 5
Charlie Daniels: 6
Max Gradel: 5
Andrew Surman: 5
Dan Gosling: 5
Matt Ritchie: 5
Junior Stanislas: 6
Joshua King: 8
Lewis Grabban (on for Stanislas, 46 mins): 5
Marc Pugh (on for Gradel, 59 mins): 5
Callum Wilson (on for Ritchie, 77 mins): 5
Danny Ward: 6
Connor Randall: 6
Kolo Toure: 6
Brad Smith: 7
Joe Allen: 7
Kevin Stewart: 6
Sheyi Ojo: 6
Roberto Firmino: 7
Jordon Ibe: 7
Daniel Sturridge: 9
Mamadou Sakho (on for Toure, 67 mins): 6
Divock Origi (on for Firmino, 75 mins): 60
Adam Lallana (on for Ibe, 78 mins): 5
Daniel Sturridge. The striker will be disappointed not to have bagged a hat-trick, but, even without doing so, his finishing and invention demonstrated he is a goalscorer of the highest calibre. If he can play like this until the season's end, he looks like a serious contender to start for England at Euro 2016.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
After Joe Allen's through-ball, Sturridge, with time and space in the penalty area, sent a classy, delicate chip beyond Artur Boruc. The ball eventually struck the post, but the technique and composure was masterful, and showed all of the natural talent that makes him so valuable when fit.
MOAN OF THE MATCH
Liverpool's Lucas was woeful in central defence. There was a time, under Kenny Dalglish, when he established himself as an excellent defensive midfielder, but he did not once look comfortable. For a team that has so many options in defence - albeit underwhelming ones - surely there's a better option than watching the Brazilian being bullied by Joshua King?
VIEW FROM THE DUGOUT
Eddie Howe will know that, despite his team having an exceptional season to move to the brink of Premier League safety, they risk spoiling it somewhat if they continue to play like this until the end of the campaign. The Cherries look under-motivated, which reflects poorly on him, for all of his talent. Jurgen Klopp gambled on selecting a weakened starting XI and it paid off, but only because Bournemouth were so poor. Lately, he can do little wrong.
WHO'S UP NEXT?
Liverpool v Everton, Barclays Premier League (Wednesday, April 20)
Bournemouth v Chelsea, Barclays Premier League (Saturday, April 23)