Liverpool hosted Burnely in the 30th round of the 2018/19 Premier League season, and a win was imperative for the Reds as they looked to close down the gap to league leaders Manchester City to one point again after the defending champions beat Watford on Saturday.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had made a brief return to action after 11 months out by playing 41 minutes of the U-23 team on Friday and was taken off at that point as a precaution. Rhian Brewster is also nearing a comeback but he still has some way to go. Dejan Lovren was being assessed before the game and made the bench, while James Milner was out with a slight muscle problem. Jurgen Klopp handed Adam Lallana a rare start in the hope of the former Southampton man still having enough in his locker to help the team.
Sean Dyche in the visitors’ dugout was without the services of defender Steven Defour who will not play again this season having undergone calf surgery, and winger Aaron Lennon was out with a knee problem.
The First Half
As they should, Liverpool looked to get on the front foot from the start, and it was good to see Lallana getting involved as much as possible. Burnley on the other hand worked hard to make sure the Reds don’t get anything for granted.
But in the seventh minute, Matip conceded a cheap corner, Westwood swung it directly into the goal, Tarkowski pushed Alisson from behind committing an obvious foul that referee Andre Marriner somehow managed to miss, and the ball went in. Officials’ mistakes have happened in the past, both helping and hindering the Reds, but this was an incredible referee blunder. Alisson’s strong protest got him booked, but nobody can blame him for that.
The game continued much in the same manner nonetheless, and another seven minutes Salah launched a quick move forward and employed Firmino in some space. The Brazilian entered the box and had a go, but his effort was blocked out of play.
After Bardsley received some treatment following a clash with Mane, the Senegalese had a good chance but missed the target with a header.
Burnley still worked hard but Liverpool were now repeatedly putting some strong pressure on their defence, and in the 19th minute the score was level. Mo Salah charged down the right, played a one-two with Wijnaldum and squared it across the six yards. Burnley defenders failed to deal with it and Firmino was there for a tap-in.
The Reds were now in full swing. Balls were constantly being flung into the visitors’ box, and the Clarets mostly looked composed at the back, there were occasionally bouts of panic in their approach.
Minue 29 was running when they overcomplicated matters trying to get out of their box and Lallana made a great tackle to win the ball 20 yards from the goal. It found Salah inside the box, and the Egyptian went down under a challenge from Taylor but Mane was there to finish it off with a great strike.
Salah certainly sprang alive in that period and he came close twice in quick succession, but first his shot from 15 yards went just wide, and then Heaton beat him to the ball on the edge of the box.
Burnley pulled a rare counterattack in the 33rd minute and McNeil whipped it in towards Barnes, but van Dijk was there to sort it out. They spent another minute in Liverpool’s half and Hendrick had a go from range, but he couldn’t hit the target. Then they were pushed back again.
They tried a few times to utilize the strength and aerial prowess of Barnes and Wood by hoofing the ball for the two strikers to hold up, it wasn’t going very well for them with van Dijk and Matip turning out to be more than they had bargained for.
Liverpool seemed to have taken their foot off the pedal slightly and the game gained some balance towards the end of the half, but it only meant that the Burnley back line’s focus dropped slightly and the Reds swung in a couple more dangerous crosses into the box. The visitors tried to make something happen from a set-piece in stoppage time but both Barnes and Wood were caught offside.
The Second Half
Burnley started the second half with some renewed determination and they attacked, but Liverpool withstood everything that was thrown at them. Time and again Van Dijk showed why he is considered the best defender in the league by making easy work of the strength of Ashley Barnes.
It didn’t take long for Liverpool to reestablish domination and move the proceedings into Burnley’s half. Salah, Firmino, Mane and Lallana worked relentlessly with everybody else doing well in support, and gave the Clarets’ defence a lot to worry about all the time.
The visitors had another good spell just after the hour-mark with McNeil giving Trent a few problems out wide, but Liverpool came close again suddenly in the 67th minute as Robertson swung in a dangerous cross towards Wijnaldum and Mane, but the two targeted players went both went for it and in the end Mane hindered Wijnaldum and the Dutchman missed the target.
It all became irrelevant just a minute later, however. A poorly taken goal-kick by Heaton reached Salah, and the Egyptian was off. Like ahead the second goal, he was dispossessed by a last-ditch tackle from Taylor, but like with the first, Firmino was there to wrap it up.
Then Klopp decided to freshen up his midfield, and Jordan Henderson stepped on to replace Wijnaldum.
Two minutes later Fabinho had to prevent Barnes from taking advantage of a ball lost by Lallana and got into Marriners’ book for a late challenge.
Burnley, to their credit, still weren’t giving up. With nothing to lose now, they often went forward in numbers, attacking to the best of their abilities, but it wasn’t enough to trouble the Reds. These short bursts of attacking intent from Dyche’s men seemed like they were designed to catch Liverpool’s back line at unawares, but it simply wasn’t happening with van Dijk around.
Liverpool, in their turn, often took advantage of their adventures and caused a few scrambles at the other end, and in the 75th minute Mane’s shot was blocked by Taylor, just before Klopp replaced Lallana with Naby Keita. Dyche responded soon by taking out Hendrick and Wood and sending on Peter Crouch (to the loud cheers from the Anfield stands) and Johann Gudmundsson.
With nine minutes remaining, Liverpool sprung a quick attack and Trent whipped a great ball into six yards, Mane got to the end of it but somehow managed to bounce it off the ground and onto the crossbar. It was a great chance.
In the 86th minute, Klopp was forced to withdraw Trent but with no right-back on the bench, he moved Henderson into that spot, Firmino into midfield and introduced Daniel Sturridge.
Salah almost scored sixty seconds later but his shot from 10 yards placed to the top corner was brilliantly saved by Heaton.
The game looked set for a calm finish, but a minute into the stoppage time it changed once more. The visitors hoofed the ball into the box an Crouch brought it down, a scramble followed at the end of which Gudmundsson slammed it in from close range.
But Liverpool weren’t going to be denied late on this time. As Burnley went forward looking for a late equalizer, a long pass found Sturridge and the striker showed strength as he held off a challenge before excellently switching the side for the incoming Mane. The Senegalese rounded Heaton and put the ball in the net.
It’s not a new for Liverpool to win a game in a fashion more nervy than needed, but this time more than ever it seemed to have been the work of the officials. How Burnley’s opener was allowed to stand is very hard to comprehend, and if Andre Marriner has any decency in him at all, he’ll be looking at this mistake as one of the biggest blunders he ever made in his career.
But Liverpool’s response was strong, and nobody can dispute the fact that they deserved this win and these points thoroughly. It was an excellent collective performance, well beyond anything Burnley, with all due respect, are capable of.
The title race is still in fine balance.
Next up in the Premier League – Fulham at Craven Cottage next Sunday, but before that there’s a small matter of getting Bayern Munich out of the way in the Champions League on Wednesday.
We Walk On.