Liverpool rally to beat physical Burnley and continue unbeaten start
By Jim White, at Turf Moor
5 December 2018 • 10:00pm
Liverpool march on, still unbeaten, still breathing down Manchester City’s expensive collars, and creating records as they go. Victory at Burnley meant they have thus far this season delivered 12 wins and three draws, their best return from the first 15 games in a top-flight season. Though it took the arrival of the cavalry from the bench to maintain their upward momentum.
Sadio Mane and Andy Robertson were injured in the Merseyside derby and were both absent. Jurgen Klopp compounded the changes by resting Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, instead leading his line with Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge. The question was whether Sean Dyche should have been disappointed by the lack of respect shown by seeing a largely second-string Liverpool on the team sheet, or grateful for not being obliged to face a shellacking from the Kop’s magical front three.
Whatever the personnel, Dyche’s tactics were straightforward: get in there. They love a slide tackle at Turf Moor. And from the off, there was plenty for the home crowd to cheer. Burnley were going in strongly all over the pitch. Joe Gomez became an early victim of the rigour of the home tackling when he was carried off on a stretcher after mixing with Ben Mee. Klopp was getting exercised by the Burnley approach, bending the ear of Mike Dean, the fourth official, throughout the first half.
“I said to ref, please, tell them you cannot do that,” the Liverpool manager said afterwards. “The crowd love it, yes, but the players, they are not in control. Somebody needs to tell them not to do it from six or seven yards.” His opposite number, who had exchanged heated words with a still incensed Klopp at the final whistle, was dismissive of such concerns. “There were some excellent challenges tonight, real challenges,” said Dyche.
For a while the old-school Burnley way proved effective, containing freewheeling opponents. The best Liverpool could manage in the first half was when Alberto Moreno fired over after being set up by James Milner and Virgil van Dijk headed into Joe Hart’s midriff from a corner. Sturridge and Origi were hardly storming in their rare moment in the sun. Klopp blamed rustiness in his reserves. The visiting fans, though, were beginning to wonder if his line-up had under-estimated the Burnley challenge.
But the point about Klopp’s Liverpool is that they can call on more than just a bit of attacking dash. Thanks to the totemic Van Dijk controlling things in the centre of their back line, they gave little to their hosts. There was a telling moment early on when Ashley Barnes caught Van Dijk napping in possession and whipped the ball off his toes. The Burnley striker had barely taken a couple of paces goalwards before he found himself completely outpaced as the flying Dutchman overtook him to reclaim the ball.
Even when Burnley got the ball in the net, via a smart finish by Barnes from Robbie Brady’s free-kick, the assistant had his flag raised. With Van Dijk conducting the charge, this Liverpool know how to construct an offside trap.
As the second half began, the visiting fans were wondering when grown-up reinforcements might arrive from their bench. The need became especially pressing when, after a scramble from a Burnley corner, their goalkeeper Alisson, treating the ball as if it were smeared in butter, failed to hold James Tarkowski’s header. The Brazilian then tried to flick the ball away from Barnes but only succeeded in skewing it to Jack Cork, who hit it home. A strike unlikely to make anyone’s desert island goals, perhaps, but the roar of relief around the ground was significant.
It was now a matter of keeping Liverpool out. But the home team’s rearguard lasted all of eight minutes before Milner, set up by a clever reverse pass from Origi, hit a shot from the edge of the area into the corner of Hart’s net. Parity was restored but the pessimistic sense now gripping the stands was that it could not last.
At this point Klopp realised if the jugular were to be sought, he needed expertise. He sent on Salah and Firmino to inject an extra zest into every Liverpool move. The inevitable came just four minutes after the pair’s introduction when Trent Alexander-Arnold drifted a free-kick behind the Burnley line. The ball found Van Dijk – as imperious in attack as in defence – drifting forward to scoop a perfect pass back to Firmino, who, with his first touch, side-footed into the net. Burnley tried to respond, hurling everything at Alisson’s goal. But when the busy Xherdan Shaqiri added a third in injury time, it only put appropriate gloss on the scoreline.
Fighters they may be but, now marooned in the bottom three after their sixth defeat in seven games, Burnley face the most uncomfortable of seasonal fixture lists, of Brighton, Arsenal and Tottenham. Liverpool, meanwhile, can look forward to the mid-table scrabblers of Bournemouth, Wolves and Manchester United. In this season when even the tough guys of Turf Moor cannot stall their progress, everything looks rosy for Klopp. Just don’t mention sliding tackles.
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