Top four hopefuls Liverpool faced a tough first Premier League game of 2018 as they travelled to Turf Moor to take on high-flying Burnley. The Reds headed into this game with a three point advantage over fifth place Arsenal, but knew that they would be without a few of their star players. The Clarets meanwhile sat in seventh before this clash, and would look to continue their stellar season with another positive result against a conventional top side.
A cagey start at Turf Moor
As is so common of their play style, Burnley surrendered much of the early possession to Liverpool, who looked slightly sluggish in the opening exchanges. The lack of Philippe Coutinho and Mohamed Salah perhaps provided the Clarets with a marginally easier task, but with the likes of Adam Lallana and Sadio Mane starting, the pace of the Reds’ play was still quick. Most of the first ten minutes was fought in the midfield battles, with Burnley looking more competitive in second ball situations. Ashley Barnes had an early chance down the left channel, but the striker couldn’t quite keep his shot down and on target.
After a cagey start the visitors grew into the game, and Dominic Solanke in particular looked lively up top for Jurgen Klopp’s side. Liverpool’s extended periods of possession mostly centred around the middle third of the pitch however, and they struggled to create much penetration behind the compact Claret back line. Sean Dyche’s side actually looked the more dangerous on the break, and only a brilliant last-ditch sliding tackle by Adam Lallana prevented Johann Gudmundsson from going clean through on goal around the 20-minute mark.
Burnley look the more dangerous in attack
Jurgen Klopp would likely have been disappointed with his side’s showing in the opening 20 minutes, and especially with their lack of attacking threat. Neither Mane nor Solanke had been able to use their pace to get in behind Burnley, and the Clarets began to hold more of the possession as they grew in confidence. Neither side seemed to be doing much with the ball however, and the travelling fans grew more and more frustrated with each sideways or backwards pass. The Reds had controlled 70% of the possession in the first half hour, but had managed just a single shot on target.
To their credit there was no lack of effort or intensity from the Liverpool players, and they unsurprisingly played at the hectic tempo that Klopp is famed for demanding from his teams. More surprising was how much defending they had to do as half time approached, and Burnley looked incredibly threatening going forward. Barnes was causing havoc for the visiting centre halves, and he almost managed to tee up Scott Arfield with a knocked-down header, only for the midfielder to drag his shot just wide of the post. In truth it was all Liverpool could do to keep the home side out upon the stroke of half time, and the two teams went in level at the break.
Sadio Mane blasts Liverpool into the lead
The rain continued to lash down as the players emerged for the second half at Turf Moor, and normal service was resumed from the first period almost immediately. Liverpool settled into the lion’s share of possession, while Burnley looked to catch the visitors on the counter. The lack of running room in behind the Clarets’ defence forced Mane and Solanke to drop deeper and deeper, meaning that most of the Reds’ attacks started from just past the half way line. This in turn allowed Burnley time to get into their compact defensive structure, making it difficult for their opponents to open up any holes.
Ben Mee was the standout player during the early minutes of the second period, and was a formidable presence in the heart of the Burnley defence. A number of blocked shots and crosses by the centre half kept the home side in the game, and added to Liverpool’s ever growing frustration. In the end it took a moment of sheer class from Sadio Mane to break the deadlock, after a deflected cross fell straight to his feet. The Senegalese international took one touch before unleashing a thunderous shot on the turn, cannoning the ball into the roof of the net, and handing his side the lead in emphatic style.
Late drama unfolds at Turf Moor
Aside from Mane’s goal Liverpool had largely lacked any real quality in attack, and in the minutes after they opened the scoring there was little impetus to grab a second. At the same time however there was no real response from Burnley, who continued to play their same system of sitting deep and using long balls and crosses to threaten the visitors’ goal. With a lead to defend, Liverpool’s long spells of possession around the Clarets’ box helped to peg the home side back, and Burnley struggled to get out of their own half as the clock ticked down.
The game finally began to open up in the last ten minutes as Sean Dyche’s men were forced to throw everything forward in search of an equaliser. Barnes almost found the goal to bring his side level after yet another Burnley player won the header from a long free-kick, but the striker’s shot again rolled just wide of the post. The chance seemed to give the home side confidence however, and they managed to grab a late and unlikely equaliser through Gudmundsson. The ball fell to the Icelandic international at the back post after a great flick-on by Sam Vokes, and his diving header gave the home side the goal that looked to have earned them a hard-fought point.
However there was one more attack in this game for the visitors, and Liverpool ended up beating Burnley at their own game. An optimistic free-kick from Oxlade-Chamberlain was headed on brilliantly by Dejan Lovren, and Ragnar Klavan beat the defenders at the back post to blast the ball home. It was the latest of late winners for Jurgen Klopp’s side, but they came away with all three points.
It was a heart-breaking finish to the game for Burnley, but on the balance of play they probably deserved to lose this one. Yet again a lack of attacking threat cost the Clarets, and their defence couldn’t hold out even against a depleted Liverpool attack. This has been without a doubt a brilliant season so far for Sean Dyche’s side, and this isn’t the sort of result that will trouble him.
In the end Liverpool did manage to come away with the three points, but they made it a lot harder than it needed to be. It took an incredibly late goal from a centre half to earn them the win, and they conceded another fairly simple goal at the other end to put them in that situation. This is the sort of game that the Reds should be winning, but their shaky back line almost let them down on yet another occasion.
Burnley: Pope; Bardsley, Tarkowski, Mee, Taylor; Gudmundsson, Cork, Defour, Arfield (Wells, 86’), Hendrick (Vokes, 72’); Barnes
Liverpool: Mignolet; Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Klavan, Gomez; Oxlade-Chamberlain (Matip, 90+6’), Can, Wijnaldum; Mané (Firmino, 72’), Solanke, Lallana (Milner, 86’)
Goals: Mane (0-1, 61’), Gudmundsson (1-1, 87’), Klavan (1-2, 90+4’)
Referee: Roger East
Yellow Cards: None
Red Cards: None
Burnley: Pope 7; Bardsley 7, Tarkowski 7, Mee 8, Taylor 7; Gudmundsson 8, Cork 7, Defour 7, Arfield 7, Hendrick 6 (Vokes n/a); Barnes 7.5
Liverpool: Mignolet 7; Alexander-Arnold 7, Lovren 7, Klavan 7.5, Gomez 7.5; Oxlade-Chamberlain 7 (Matip n/a), Can 6, Wijnaldum 7; Mané 8 (Firmino n/a), Solanke 5, Lallana 6 (Milner n/a)
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