Liverpool came from a goal behind to beat Burnley 3-1 in a tight encounter at Turf Moor on Wednesday evening.
Jurgen Klopp made wholesale changes to the team which dramatically beat Everton on the weekend and the substitutes failed to click for large swathes of the match. Burnley took the lead in the second half thanks to a Jack Cork goal but were quickly pegged back by James Milner before Roberto Firmino and Xherdan Shaqiri sealed the win for the Reds.
Liverpool learning to win the ugly way
Last season Liverpool were lauded for their heavy-metal style football and the gusto with which they would sweep teams aside. Their major weakness however was a seeming inability at times to defend alongside a struggle to break down teams lower down the league away from home.
This season it seems that Klopp has decided to sacrifice some of the attacking potency to give greater protection to the defence. This defensive bolstering is having a clear effect; Liverpool have kept more clean sheets than any other team this season (nine) and are grinding out results in a way which would not have seemed possible last season.
This is Klopp’s fourth season at Anfield and he seems to have clocked that to succeed in the Premier League it is all about endurance and stability, something which their rivals Manchester City have perfected. Whilst some fans may be sad to see the dynamic and at times destructive style of football Liverpool have played, they should be heartened in the knowledge that this more conservative and considered style of play is far more conducive to long-term success.
If it isn’t broke…
When the team-sheets were published at Turf Moor, the first thing which drew the attention was the absence of Mohammed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino. The front three were instrumental in Liverpool’s success last season scoring 91 goals between them across all competitions and it feels as if they are irreplaceable in terms of quality and threat.
Whilst some players such as Xherdan Shaqiri and Daniel Sturridge have played well enough to force them into contention – Shaqiri has actually persuaded Klopp to alter his formation to allow him a place in the team.
At the start of the match, Liverpool seemed to lack that precision and cutting edge which they so often give off. They knocked the ball around nicely but did not seem able to find the final product. Just three minutes after introducing Salah and Firmino in the second half, Klopp’s men found themselves 2-1 to the good perhaps highlights the instrumental impact they have on their side.
Klopp will need to rotate during this long season if his team are to progress on all fronts but he will have to pick and choose very carefully to ensure he does not leave the team high and dry.
Much needed attitude missing for the Clarets
As much as it can be said that Liverpool would have maybe lost this game last season due to their own misgivings, it is equally valid to claim that this is the sort of game 2017/18 Burnley would have relished.
Last season Burnley showed incredible mental resilience in games against the top sides to dig in and grind out results. This season however, they have looked a shadow of their former self. Asides from the basic defensive errors that they have been committing there seems to have been a real drop in attitude as well. The Clarets had a good chance to get ahead in the first half yet instead of taking encouragement from it the miss seemed to drop their confidence.
They did find themselves in the lead; mostly due to a rather forgiving look on the goal from referee Stuart Atwell. Liverpool goalkeeper Allison seemed to have both hands on the ball when Ashley Barnes knocked it out to Jack Cork who duly put the ball in the back of the net.
They could not sustain though and went onto rue their missed opportunities, keeping them in the bottom three.
Can Liverpool really push Manchester City?
Wednesday’s win sees Liverpool remain two points behind the league leaders and although City are widely considered to be favourite for the league title again this season, the question is how far can they be pushed by Liverpool?
Like many pre-season predictions, it seems that Liverpool will be tasked with breathing down Pep’s neck for as long as they can. In most other seasons this Liverpool team would most probably be more than capable of winning the league but it seems that City are just too good and a cut above everybody else. It will be interesting to see how far Klopp’s men can maintain this close gap to the leaders and for just how long it can be maintained. If it continues, we could well have a title race on our hands.
Should Burnley be considered relegation candidates?
Maybe a rephrasing of the question would help: Should a team in 19th position with nine points from 15 games be considered relegation candidates?
When you put it like that things do look rather bleak for Burnley. They have won only twice this season and are on a current winless run of eight games. They were without a doubt the surprise package of last season’s Premier League in which Dyche engineered a spectacular 7th place finish yet they have been unable to conjure up anything like last season and currently find themselves in the bottom three.
The Premier League is a cruel place however and has no time for sentiment or narrative. Burnley have been nothing short of dreadful this season and only Fulham have conceded more than them this campaign. It is perhaps unfair to expect last season’s success from Burnley to be repeated. Indeed, in 2017/18 their xG against them was far higher than the actual number of goals they conceded. In English, this effectively means due to the number of shots they were facing they should have conceded much more than they did, but this was not the case.
So perhaps all we are seeing now is what Burnley really should have been last season. Regardless of the why, Sean Dyche needs to get this team sorted out as quick as possible. They are only off the bottom of the table on goal difference and if things do not turn around there is a very slim chance he may find his job under pressure. Has anyone got ‘Big Sam’s’ number?