Having rounded 2017 off with a home win against Leicester, it was time for the Reds to start the new year on the very first day away to Burnley.
Liverpool entered 2018 with some mixed news.
A few days ago the club confirmed the transfer of Virgil van Dijk. However, it was no surprise that the Dutch centre-back was left out of the squad for this game, having had only one training session with the Reds.
Meanwhile, the man that has lit up the Premier League this season, winger Mohamed Salah limped off the pitch on Saturday after scoring two goals to turn the game around and provide his team with another three points.
Salah therefore joins Nathaniel Clyne, Daniel Sturridge and Alberto Moreno on the sidelines, leaving manager Jurgen Klopp to make do without his top scorer.
Some new speculations around Philippe Coutinho have emerged after Nike’s preposterous blunder, and the Magician misses this game as well. But The Telegraph’s Chris Bascombe says:
Salah (groin), Coutinho (thigh) the injury absentees for LFC at Burnley. Both expected to be fit for FA Cup next week.
— Chris Bascombe (@_ChrisBascombe) January 1, 2018
A heavily rotated team was expected anyway, given that the span between the previous kick-off and this one was only 48 hours.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) January 1, 2018
Burnley have given Liverpool some grief in the recent past, with the Reds winning only one of the previous three encounters, and that by a narrow margin. Sean Dyche, the man in charge of the team, was able to welcome back defender James Tarkowski who had served a three-match ban, though he wasn’t sure if either of Stephen Ward and Chris Wood would recover from a knee problem and a leg injury, respectively.
In the end, neither of them made it and Dyche picked the following squad:
— Burnley FC (@BurnleyOfficial) January 1, 2018
The First Half
Liverpool started the game well enough. They attacked from the off, and Tarkowski was lucky not to get booked after just 40 seconds for a late tackle on Dominic Solanke. A nice long attack followed, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain aiming a cross towards Dejan Lovren but Lovren was marked well. Burnley cleared their box but only as far as Adam Lallana who laid it off for Ragnar Klavan. Klavan sent in another cross and found Solanke, the youngster laid it off for Lallana whose shot from just outside the box went nowhere near the target.
In this early stage, the Reds pressed high, winning the ball quickly, keeping possession and attacking, while Burnley defended with strong discipline. They kept close to their opponents, played very physically and often made their visitors pass back all the way to Simon Mignolet. Liverpool’s formation was mostly a 4-2-3-1, with Joe Gomez deployed at left-back, Gini Wijnaldum and Emre Can covering the two holding roles. Lallana supported Solanke up front from a free-floating No.10 role, flanked by Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sadio Mane who often interchanged and cut inside when Lallana floated wide.
In the 8th minute, Trent Alexander-Arnold gave the ball away in his own half and Burnley exploded into attack, ending with Ashley Barnes shooting very wide from a nice position. Barnes was actually well offside, but the flag had stayed down.
Two minutes later, Jack Cork repaid Alexander-Arnold by giving the ball away himself, and after a shaky few seconds, Burnley defence were lucky Mane couldn’t capitalize on the situation.
As time went by, Liverpool were slowly losing their edge and Burnley grew comfortable and stayed focused. Still, Oxlade-Chamberlain had a good low shot from 25 yards saved by Nick Pope in the 17th minute, after Lallana had found him with a superb diagonal pass. Burnley then hit on the counter. Barnes sent Gudmundssen through, he was going one-on-one with Mignolet, but Lallana recovered with unexpected pace and produced a fantastic tackle from behind to dispossess him. It’s hard to express in words just how good that tackle was.
But the Clarets gained some valuable confidence from that moment, and even though they were still unable to attack properly, they defended really well. Liverpool were however rather slow with developing their plan of attack. There was no one-touch football; every player seemed to take too many touches, allowing the opposition to constantly reset themselves at the back. There was no fluency in either moving the ball or the players finding space.
The game was turning into a frustrating affair. Still, it could have gotten worse in the 28th minute when a mistake by Emre Can allowed Arfield to shoot from the edge of the box. Ragnar Klavan was in place to block it, but Burnley continued their attack, finally ending it with a cross towards Arfield again who directed it goalwards with a backward header, but Mignolet saved it comfortably.
Around the half-hour mark, two attacks by Liverpool in quick succession added to the sense of frustration. First, Wijnaldum took a hasty shot from 30 yards that went sky-high, and then a quick move ended with Mane shooting extremely wide.
Another attempt three minutes later ended in similarly disappointing fashion when Oxlade-Chamberlain failed to control a good cross from Alexander-Arnold, after the young full-back had just displayed some fine dribbling to create space for himself.
Dejan Lovren did very little wrong in this game, but he had a lot of trouble with Ashley Barnes. The Clarets’ striker tended to get initially physical with Liverpool’s centre-back when a long pass went their way, but as soon as Lovren would show strength himself, Barnes would go down like lightning had struck him. More to the point, he succeeded in getting a foul every time with referee Rodger East having a very poor day.
One such occasion resulted in Burnley getting a free-kick from around 25 yards in the 34th minute, in a very favorable position for a good taker. It was Gudmundssen who took it, and hit the wall. Then he sent in a cross towards Barnes who would have had a free header, but the cross went a few inches behind his head.
Burnley tried to attack again, but Wijnaldum cunningly stole the ball deep in his own half and launched a counterattack. It ended with Ben Mee and Phil Bardsley doing enough to thwart the efforts of Mane and Solanke.
The last 10 minutes of the first half were a difficult period for Liverpool. In the 37th minute, the home team almost took the lead. A long pass forward was headed down by Barnes for Scott Arfield, and Arfield’s low shot went wide by an inch.
Burnley attacked, and the referee was giving them everything under pressure from the home crowd.
Liverpool however managed to produce one more swift counter, but it was ruined by Oxlade-Chamberlain with a hasty shot that was blocked.
A minute before the break, Charlie Taylor sent in a fantastic cross from the left and it went across the six-yard box, when Klavan directed it out for a corner. At first it looked as Klavan was clumsy and almost scored an own-goal, but the slow-motion video showed that the Estonian knew exactly what he was doing. It was actually a great piece of defending, preventing any Burnley player from tapping in at the far post.
The Second Half
Liverpool came out attacking again after the break, and Burnley again defended with discipline. The game had been going in the same direction as in the first half for about five minutes, and then Bardsley grappled with Mane and brought him down inside the box, but East wouldn’t hear of it.
A minute later Lallana had a shot from range blocked out for a corner. It was taken short by Oxlade-Chamberlain who played a one-two with Lallana and whipped it in, and Wijnaldum won the header but headed over the bar.
In the 55th minute Burnley threatened from a counterattack with a long pass from the back finding the run of Gudmundssen, but Mignolet was out in time and the linesman’s flag was raised high.
Right on the hour mark, another seemingly harmless Liverpool attack was developing. Eventually, Alexander-Arnold whipped a cross in from the right flank, Oxlade-Chamberlain was running onto it but Mane took it off him. It seemed like a very foolish move by the Senegalese at first, but standing on the edge of the box, he just turned and fired into the top corner, hitting the roof of the net. A stunning goal from the man Liverpool needed to step up the most in the absence of Salah, Coutinho and Firmino.
Naturally, Burnley tried to respond as quickly as possible. They weren’t comfortable just defending with discipline anymore. In the 62nd minute, a long attack ended with Steven Defour taking a strong low shot, but Mignolet saved it.
In the next minute, Wijnaldum headed over the bar again from another Oxlade-Chamberlain corner.
Liverpool’s lines now moved slightly back, while Burnley’s moved a bit forward.
In the 71st minute, Burnley’s hardly visible midfielder Jeff Hendrick left the pitch and Sam Vokes came on as the second striker alongside Barnes. Goalscorer Mane was replaced for Liverpool at the same time, by Roberto Firmino.
Three minutes later, Alexander-Arnold improved the impression of an underwhelming individual performance overall with a very clever shot from 30 yards. He took it with the outside of his foot, looking like a right-footed version of Roberto Carlos, aiming for the near top corner. Pope saved it nevertheless, but he looked much relieved afterwards.
On the other hand, Mignolet had a very descent game, producing several good saves, but two minutes after Trent’s shot he made a trademark blunder by leaving his box and needlessly giving away a throw-in deep in Liverpool’s half.
Between the two moments described, the Reds came close to doubling the lead with Lallana, Klavan and Firmino combining on the left. The Brazilian then sent a dangerous cross into the six yards, but Mee dealt with it similarly to Klavan at the end of the first half.
As the end approached, Burnley started hunting for set-pieces in Liverpool’s half that would enable them to get forward, with Tarkowski and Mee presenting significant aerial threat alongside Vokes and Barnes. Liverpool defenders had their hands full.
Dyche’s men got one such opportunity in the 79th minute. A long ball came towards the box, Mee won the header and Barnes shot a volley wide. Three minutes later the same player headed wide after a corner.
Then Liverpool conducted a nice counterattack that got Wijnaldum into the Clarets’ box. The defenders crowded around him and he included Solanke who sent the ball to Oxlade-Chamberlain who found himself in a good chance to score, but his shot from a tight angle was saved by Pope.
Five minutes from time, Gudmundssen sent a diagonal cross from deep right, aiming for Vokes who had escaped the attention of Alexander-Arnold on the far post, and Mignolet was forced to make a great save to stop Vokes’ header.
Sixty seconds later, Lallana was replaced by James Milner. Arfield also went out for Burnley and Nahki Wells came on.
The 88th minute was flowing when Burnley took a throw-in deep in Liverpool’s half. Taylor threw it to Cork who returned it to him, and the left-back sent a cross to the near post where Vokes won the header and clipped it over towards the far post where Gudmundsson had made his run and the winger from Iceland just headed into the gaping corner.
With all this happening just two minutes from time, the disappointing feeling that this would be another one of “those” games became unbearable. Liverpool tried to recover from the shock but never looked like making it in time. A few half-hearted attempts followed, but Burnley had now regained their confidence and even showed a glimpse of desire for the whole prize.
The fourth official raised his board displaying there would be four minutes of added time. And right at the end of it, the Reds hit Burnley with their own weapon.
A free-kick just inside Burnley’s half, too far for a shot, was taken by Oxlade-Chamberlain. It looked too strong for a second, but Lovren wouldn’t give up on it and he managed to beat everyone in the air and direct it towards the gaping far corner. Just as it was about to go over the line and started looking as if Bardsley might actually clear it off, Klavan stuck his head in and made sure it wouldn’t happen. A heart-stopping end to the game, even for those of us who had already survived Istanbul and Norwich.
The referee allowed the play to continue two minutes further. In order to cut it short and strengthen the aerial prowess of his team, Klopp introduced Joel Matip for Oxlade-Chamberlain in the 96th minute.
And that was it.
These new points take the fourth-place Liverpool to six above Arsenal and just one below Chelsea, while the two London teams play each other on Wednesday. Now comes a bit of rest, at least when the Premier League is concerned. The next game in the competition sees the Reds welcome league-leaders Manchester City on January 14th, but before that, there’s a small matter of an FA Cup Merseyside Derby.
We walk on.