Liverpool beat Burnley at Anfield on Saturday to make it two out of two in the Premier League this season, with Diogo Jota heading a Kostas Tsimikas cross past Nick Pope in the Burnley goal in the 18th minute and Sadio Mane latching onto a Trent Alexander-Arnold pass to slam home in the 69th.
Burnley were the team that broke Liverpool’s run of 68 home games in the league without defeat last season, marking the start of a woeful one which saw the Merseysiders’ title defence efforts fall apart, but Liverpool made sure something like that wouldn’t happen this time.
Ever since Liverpool sold Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona in January 2018, manager Jurgen Klopp and his staff have been working on devising and perfecting a system in which the two fullbacks, Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, became the main creators in their team’s attacking approach. In 2019-20, the season the Reds finally ended their three-decade wait and won the Premier League title, Alexander-Arnold had 15 assists from the right flank in all competitions, 12 in the league. Robertson from the left had 13, all in the league.
The system again showed its benefits on Saturday, even though Robertson only made the bench and didn’t play due to an ankle injury. Tsimikas did another fine job in his place following a decent outing against Norwich in the season opener last week, and it was his pin-point cross that found the run of Jota as the Portuguese attacker took advantage of a momentary lapse of concentration from Burnley captain Ben Mee to score the first goal.
The move that led to the second was instigated by a trademark diagonal from the back by Virgil van Dijk. Young Harvey Elliott, who had a very good full Premier League debut, tamed it and passed to Alexander-Arnold in space, forcing James Tarkowski to leave his place in the Burnley back line and come out. It wasn’t very difficult for Alexander-Arnold to flick it on towards a completely unmarked Mane near the penalty spot, and the Senegalese is always more likely to score than not from such a position.
Liverpool’s tendency to attack through their fullbacks isn’t exactly a secret and the managers of opposing teams have been trying to block it for a long time, but it seems most of them still have a lot of work to do on that front. That especially goes for Burnley boss Sean Dyche, whose team conceded twice to Brighton and Hove Albion in the opening round through attacks from wide positions.
This match was one that the Burnley striker will want to forget as soon as possible. He was closely marked for the most of its course and had a very difficult time against Van Dijk and Joel Matip, and his linkup with Chris Wood didn’t work too well.
Frustration began to show in his conduct as time went by. He started several spats with Liverpool players, both those that marked him on one side of the pitch and those whom he marked during set-pieces at the other. He even grabbed Jota by the throat on one occasion and was extremely lucky to avoid a booking.
He managed to put the ball into the net under the Kop in the 46th minute as he latched onto a cross from Matt Lowton, and he went to taunt the home supporters in celebration, only to realize the linesman’s flag was rightly up for offside.
To cap an extremely frustrating game off, he broke past the Liverpool defence in the stoppage time and had a clear one-on-one situation with Alisson Becker, but the Brazilian goalkeeper stepped out with immaculate timing and positioning and made a great save.
If there was one Burnley player that caught the eye for the right reasons, it was Dwight McNeil.
The 21-year-old winger was a danger to Liverpool’s defence on the left side of Burnley’s attack, forcing Alexander-Arnold and Matip to work very hard to stop him. He had a shot cleared off the line (though the goal wouldn’t have stood due to Wood being offside in the buildup), his cross was headed on target by Wood which forced a save from Alisson, and he had a fine direct shot also stopped by the Liverpool ‘keeper. He broke into the box in the situation that preceded Liverpool’s opener and went down after contact from Alexander-Arnold, but there was no cause for referee Mike Dean to give a penalty.
The general feeling is that Dyche’s mostly defensive system severely limits his output, and it would certainly be interesting to see what he could do playing for a more attack-minded team.
McNeil was linked with Manchester United in the past, and it could be argued that Liverpool themselves could use such a player to offer a decent alternative to Mane or Mohamed Salah. It’s hard to say what the future holds for this youngster at this point, but he might be worth keeping an eye on, especially if Burnley fail to avoid relegation at the end of the season.
Jota or Firmino?
Klopp started Jota ahead of Roberto Firmino in the opening round against Norwich and brought on the Brazilian in the second half, and both players repaid his decision with a goal. It left the manager with a difficult choice to make for this one, but the one he made was again the right one. Jota started again and scored. Firmino replaced him with 10 minutes to go and had a rather quiet time on the pitch as Liverpool slowed the game down, seeking to bring it to a calm end.
Firmino was rightly a part of Liverpool’s formidable front line for years before Jota’s arrival, but many now believe the Portuguese is a better option overall. It does seem like Jota has a better eye for a goal, which is probably the most important asset an attacking player can have. But it’s no secret that Firmino offers what few other players in the game have in their locker – an extremely commendable work-rate, a nose for starting an energetic press, as well as extraordinary selflessness which often helps the likes of Salah and Mane get the numbers they usually do. Quite apart from all that, he has been known to score vital goals himself.
So presuming that Klopp sticks to his 4-3-3 shape, who should be starting in his team?
While Jota’s goalscoring potential cannot be doubted, it could be argued that Klopp picks his central attacker in accordance to the opposition. Against teams like Norwich and Burnley, who spend most of the time against Liverpool defending, Jota’s ability to score in addition to that of Salah and Mane is very significant.
On the other hand, it will be interesting to see if Klopp sticks to Jota ahead of Firmino in their upcoming clash against Chelsea or when they face Manchester City on October the 3rd. Those teams will likely seek to dominate possession and attack, and in those circumstances, Firmino’s tendency to press and close down passes in the buildup from the back could be the factor that prevails.
The six points Liverpool have racked up so far have certainly been expected. With all due respect to Norwich and Burnley, a team that strives to win the title at the end of the season can hardly afford not to win such contests, and the Merseysiders will be pleased with what they’ve done up until now.
Now, however, it’s Chelsea. Direct clashes between title contenders (and both Liverpool and Chelsea certainly are that) rarely decide the ultimate victor, but the match should be an interesting one, naturally. While Liverpool seem to have consolidated themselves completely and to have some of the most important players back after the woes of last season, Chelsea didn’t win the Champions League by accident.
Chelsea spent a lot of money on attacking reinforcements during this summer and the last. At the moment, all eyes are on Romelu Lukaku whose return to Stamford Bridge cost the club €115 million, and who is certainly a far more complete player than he was when he first left. He is, without a doubt, among the top five strikers in the world right now, offering physical presence, aerial prowess, surprising pace, a fine linkup ability and a knack for scoring.
The rest of the team under the command of Thomas Tuchel are no picnic to face either. Let’s see what Liverpool make of them at Anfield this Saturday.
On the other hand, Burnley may not be too disappointed that they lost this match, but the previous one, which they lost at home to Brighton, will have been a blow to their hopes of survival. Naturally, there is a very long way to go yet, and Dyche and his men will be hoping their results pick up soon.
For them, it’s Leeds United at Turf Moor in the league next. Marcelo Bielsa’s team are a tough nut to crack as a rule, but the Clarets need to start taking points if they intend not to find themselves with a mountain too steep to climb over the coming months.
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