As the congested schedule set to last throughout December slowly begins, Liverpool travelled to Burnley only three days after beating Everton in an incredible Merseyside Derby.
Things weren’t going very well for the home side prior to this match. The Clarets had picked up only nine points from 14 Premier League games (only four at Turf Moor) and were sitting in 19th place. A far cry from what we had become used to seeing from Sean Dyche’s team.
Liverpool, on the other hand, managed to stay right at the top, only two points behind Manchester City (five ahead of the game as City had beaten Watford on the previous day), despite not playing their best football.
Jurgen Klopp wasn’t able to count on Sadio Mane and Andy Robertson for this game, as they suffered a cut to the foot and a dead leg, respectively. Dejan Lovren was also out due to a head clash which happened in training.
Jordan Henderson returned to the line-up following his suspension for the Derby, and this was the captain’s 300th career league appearance. Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Fabinho were on the bench, where they were joined by the returning Adam Lallana, young Rafa Camacho and goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
Steven Defour was a doubt for Burnley and missed out eventually with a knee problem. Dyche was also unable to call upon long-term absentees, goalkeeper Nick Pope and fullback Stephen Ward.
The First Half
It was to be expected the home side would take a strong physical approach, looking to unsettle Liverpool early. It almost bore fruit after five minutes when Ashley Barnes surprised Van Dijk and stole the ball from him as the last man of defence, but the Dutchman recovered and retook it for his team.
Liverpool tried to be as patient as ever in their buildup, but it wasn’t easy. The Clarets were relentless in the way they chased their opponents all over the pitch and closed down spaces by staying very tight. Klopp’s men had to be sharp on the ball but they weren’t finding that easy either.
After ten minutes, Burnley had only 12% possession, but they never looked like the weaker team. In fact, they threatened seriously in the 12th minute. Barnes took advantage of a lovely pass to get away from Van Dijk and employed Wood on the other side, and it took all the defensive skill of Joe Gomez to dispossess the Burnley striker on the edge of the box, with only Alisson behind him.
Five minutes later, Sturridge earned a free-kick (with a dive, it has to be said) wide on the left.
Milner swung in a cross but the Clarets cleared it. Then Burnley ventured forward and Gudmundssen almost put Wood through, but Gomez did very well again.
In the 20th minute, misfortune struck. Henderson produced a nice pass down the right flank for Gomez to chase and Mee made a tackle on the ball, taking out Gomez as well. The Liverpool defender stayed down and needed treatment, and as he was stretchered off, Klopp was forced to send in Trent Alexander-Arnold off the bench.
From that moment on, Liverpool picked up their game a little. They kept the ball more securely and pushed Burnley further back.
But in the 27th minute, referee Stuart Atwell missed an obvious and deliberate foul by Bardsley on Moreno, and Liverpool nearly lost the other fullback to injury as well, but the Spaniard shook it off. Two minutes later, Milner took a good corner and Van Dijk got high up and headed strongly on target, but Joe Hart was well positioned and made a comfortable save.
It took Liverpool seven minutes to try again, and that time Keita got the ball from Milner inside the box and blasted it goalwards, hitting Mee straight in the chest. Then it was Bardsley’s turn to have a go as he hit one from range at the other end, missing the target by a yard or two. Shaqiri created a good chance for Milner who took it on a nice turn inside the box, but his shot was blocked by the numerous defenders. A minute later, a great combo involving Shaqiri, Keita, Trent and Sturridge enabled the Guinean to shoot, but Hart was alert again.
Five minutes from time, Atwell gave Burnley a free-kick for a soft touch by Matip on Barnes. Liverpool held their high defensive line and caught Barnes offside, and it was a good thing they did because Barnes had volleyed Brady’s cross straight past Alisson and into the net.
Liverpool were definitely getting into stride towards the break. They made Burnley defenders think more and work a lot harder, their moves were more intricate; but they still failed to create any clear-cut chances. In the final minute of the half, the home side tried to surprise the Reds with another burst of high pressing and they managed to have the last attack, but they couldn’t make anything of it.
The Second Half
Liverpool immediately showed they would go into this period with a lot more desire. Only a minute and a half in, following some nice work from Keita and Origi, Sturridge whacked one from just outside the box and made Hart produce a great save.
At the other end, Burnley completely looked themselves. They used any and every opportunity hoof the ball long towards Barnes or Wood, or simply looked to get a favorable set-piece, but Liverpool defenders were now very focused.
In the 52nd minute, Hart brilliantly saved his team again as Keita glided past several opponents before sending a rocket from 20 yards into the top corner.
But two minutes later, Burnley suddenly took the lead. Gudmundssen swung in a corner to the far post, Trent allowed Tarkowski to head goalwards unchallenged, and as the rest of Liverpool’s defence stood rooted to the spot and looked on, Alisson was forced to stop first Wood and then Barnes, before Cork tapped it in completely unchallenged from close range.
Liverpool responded quickly, however, and after a few unsuccessful attacks, Shaqiri sent a diagonal pass for Moreno who gave it to Keita. Keita put it into the feet of Origi inside the box who laid it off for Milner at 20 yards. The vice-captain smacked it low, right into the bottom corner and out of Hart’s reach. The clock was showing 62 minutes.
Three minutes later, Klopp sent in the reinforcements in the form of Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah. Origi and Moreno made way. Milner slotted in at left-back and Shaqiri dropped to midfield.
Six minutes after the equalizer, Sturridge was needlessly fouled 35 yards out. After a short nudge by Shaqiri, Trent swung it to the left side from where Van Dijk sent it back across, and this time it was Burnley’s turn to look on as Firmino poked it home from two yards and turned the game around.
Dyche wasted no time. He pulled out Brady and Wood, and sent on Aaron Lennon and Sam Vokes.
But Liverpool were now in control. Burnley seemed like they had nothing but hoofball left to play, and though it did get them high up the pitch at times, there wasn’t much they could do to trouble Alisson. This was perhaps best echoed by a shot from Westwood from outside the box that harmlessly nestled in the arms of the Brazil goalkeeper.
Eight minutes from time, the Clarets needed all of their steel and focus not to concede a third. Hart made two consecutive saves, one from Keita and Salah apiece, then Tarkowski blocked Sturridge from scoring from eight or nine yards, and eventually Bardsley cleared the ball off the goal-line.
Three minutes later, Firmino put Salah through and the Egyptian took it to the right, forcing himself to shoot with his weaker foot and failing to cause any worry for Hart.
Matej Vydra, who had replaced Barnes a bit earlier, picked up a yellow card for dishing out his team’s frustrations on Keita in the 87th minute.
The Clarets, however, did manage to earn a corner just as the 90 were up, and Alisson was called upon to save the day after a scramble on the edge of six yards. The former Roma man then threw the ball some 50 yards to Sturridge, Sturridge lifted it beautifully for Salah whose run from the middle to the right side drew a defender out. Shaqiri made the most of the space that had opened up as he outpaced Tarkowski, got the ball from Salah in the perfect moment and slotted coolly past Hart to settle the game.
Don’t let the result fool you – it was another hard-fought win for Klopp and his team. It was Burnley as we know it, tough and resilient, sharp, focused and physical. But the Reds weathered it successfully, and the only concern that remains now is the extent of Gomez’s injury. The young defender has enjoyed a great start to the season, and it would be a downright shame if he was to spend any time on the sidelines now.
These three points have now ensured Liverpool remain just two behind league leaders Manchester City, while the table really doesn’t look good for Burnley.
The hectic period continues, and the Reds travel to Bournemouth on Saturday for another tough encounter.
We Walk On.