Jota, Nunez step into Salah’s shoes to send Liverpool five points clear

Bournemouth’s Ukrainian defender #27 Illia Zabarnyi (L) vies with Liverpool’s Uruguayan striker #09 Darwin Nunez (R) during the English Premier League football match between Bournemouth and Liverpool at the Vitality Stadium in Bournemouth, southern England on January 21, 2024. AFP

Liverpool shrugged off the absence of Mohamed Salah to move five points clear at the top of the Premier League as Diogo Jota and Darwin Nunez struck twice in a 4-0 win at Bournemouth on Sunday.

The Reds’ title credentials will be tested while their star man is away with Egypt at the Africa Cup of Nations.

But Jota and Nunez stood up to be counted to secure a vital win at one of the form sides in the Premier League.

Bournemouth had lost just once in their previous nine games to climb comfortably clear of the relegation zone.

However, the Cherries were held at arm’s length in the first half before Jurgen Klopp’s men turned on the style after the break.

The visitors were restricted to pot shots in a first period devoid of clear chances.

Alexis Mac Allister and Nunez tested Neto from long range.

But the game turned on one moment of quality from Liverpool to break the deadlock on 49 minutes.

Jota’s first time pass put Nunez in the clear and the Uruguayan showed the poise he has often lacked in his Liverpool career to date to slot into the far corner.

Substitute Cody Gakpo then teed up Jota to fire in at the near post 20 minutes from time to end the game as a contest.

Jota was more fortunate for his second as the Portuguese fluffed his initial effort from Conor Bradley’s cross only for the ball to sit up for a second attempt which he drilled low and hard across Neto.

Nunez had scored just once in his previous 16 Liverpool appearances since scoring the winner against Bournemouth in the League Cup in early November.

The confidence he gained from finding the net earlier in the half showed as he slid in perfectly to meet Joe Gomez’s cross and round off a fine afternoon for Liverpool in stoppage time.

Manchester City have a game in hand on their title rivals to be able to shave Liverpool’s advantage at the top down to two points.

But after a season in the doldrums saw Klopp’s men slip to fifth last year, there is little doubt that they are once again the biggest threat to City’s crown as champions.

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