Liverpool 1 Bournemouth 0
Life in the Premier League can be unforgiving, wrote Brendan Rodgers in his programme notes. Eddie Howe can only agree after Bournemouth were condemned to a harsh second defeat in the top flight by a controversial winner on his Liverpool home debut from Christian Benteke.
The Belgium international pounced from close range to maintain Liverpool's 100 per cent start to the season, a record matched by only the two Manchester clubs and Leicester City so far, but the goal should never have stood with Philippe Coutinho clearly offside in the build-up.
They don't call Coutinho the "little magician" for nothing in these parts, and his disappearing act in the eyes of referee Craig Pawson and his assistants proved the defining moment of an open game. Two goals, two wins and two clean sheets are the only statistics that count for Rodgers at this stage. His new-look team are economical and efficient. For Bournemouth, however, encouragement was laced with frustration.
John W Henry and Tom Werner, Liverpool's principal owner and chairman respectively, were at Anfield to check on the redevelopment of the colossal £114 million main stand and Rodgers's more expensively assembled team. It would not have taken them long to realise both remain a work in progress as Liverpool, with four Anfield debutants in their starting line-up, struggled to contain a vibrant Bournemouth opening before taking the lead.
The Liverpool manager picked the same side and bench as opened the season at Stoke City last weekend, which meant summer signing Roberto Firmino biding his time among the substitutes again and no place in the matchday squad for Lucas Leiva or Mamadou Sakho. The Brazilian midfielder and France international defender, who could both exit before the close of the transfer window, were to be found sat with fellow outcasts Mario Balotelli, Fabio Borini and José Enrique in the back row of the directors' box. They would have noted the murmurs prompted by Liverpool's display inside 10 minutes.
Howe refused to be over-critical of his side's Premier League debut last weekend, a home defeat by Aston Villa, and could have had fewer complaints here. Max Gradel and Matt Ritchie offered energy and invention down either flank while Callum Wilson's movement and strength proved a constant distraction to Dejan Lovren. Liverpool, looking to Coutinho for inspiration throughout, appeared surprised by the visitors' intensity.
Bournemouth thought they had the lead after only five minutes when captain Tommy Elphick climbed above Lovren and headed Ritchie's corner beyond the suspect grasp of Simon Mignolet. Their celebrations were curtailed by Pawson, who penalised the central defender for a slight push on the Croatia international as the pair closed in on the corner.
If that was harsh – and it could have gone either way – there was no disputing the legitimacy of Bournemouth’s anger when Benteke gave Liverpool the lead.
Rodgers's team had begun to stifle the visitors' counter-attacks and offer their own threat by the time the breakthrough came. Coutinho almost played in Benteke twice and the £32.5million summer signing from Aston Villa also went close with a 25-yard drive before Jordon Ibe won a corner on the left.
Jordan Henderson played the set piece back to Nathaniel Clyne, then swept in a fine cross from the full back's return. Bournemouth held their defensive line and caught Coutinho in their offside trap. Liverpool's No 10 made a clear attempt to play the ball as he stood in the centre of Artur Boruc's goal but the cross missed his raised studs by inches.
With Boruc distracted, Benteke ghosted in from an onside position to finish from close range. In terms of intent, proximity of the ball and impact on an opponent, Coutinho was offside under the new interpretation of the rule but, to Bournemouth’s clear dismay, Benteke’s goal stood.
It should have been worse for Howe’s team when Coutinho benefited from a ricochet inside the area on the stroke of half-time but, with a clear sight of goal, he sidefooted wastefully wide.
Liverpool could have done with the comfort of a second goal to ease their anxieties. Bournemouth, with Ritchie's powerful left foot to the fore, were a constant test. The Gosport-born Scotland international ensured there was no gentle introduction to life at Anfield for young Joe Gomez at left back and was close to levelling from 20 yards.
Gomez, to the 18-year-old’s credit, worked tirelessly to limit the right midfielder’s impact. Eunan O’Kane put Bournemouth’s next chance into the side-netting from a tight angle after Wilson dissected the home defence.
Coutinho had another good chance to extend Liverpool's advantage when Benteke broke down the left and picked out the Brazilian on the edge of the penalty area. Charlie Daniels denied Coutinho his second of the season with a superb block. Benteke hit the bar from close range in stoppage time.