Verdict: Both teams to score
Best odds: 7/10
Burnley are set to welcome Liverpool to Turf Moor on Wednesday in the round before last as far as this Premier League campaign is concerned. The game will see two highly motivated teams stand against each other, thought their respective sources of motivation come from different places.
The Clarets have been a regular part of the Premier League for a while now. In fact, it would be hard to imagine a season in the English top flight without the team so different to the top ones in style, albeit, in quality as well.
The fact that Burnley have been in this company for five years now is impressive, given their extremely limited budget. Nonetheless, they struggled for a long time throughout the campaign and seemed destined to fight for survival to the very end. But in the end, they were spared huge anxiety towards the end by the fact that Sheffield United, West Bromwich Albion and Fulham are all confirmed for relegation.
At the moment, Sean Dyche’s team are sitting in 15th place with 39 points to their name, wrapped tightly in the safety net along with Newcastle (16th, 39 pts) and Brighton and Hove Albion (17th, 38).
Burnley’s last six outings saw them win twice (0-4 away to Wolves and 0-2 away to Fulham), and lose four times (1-2 at home against Newcastle, 3-1 away to Manchester United, 1-2 at home against West Ham, and 0-4 at home against Leeds United.
Dyche will be sweating over the fitness of Nick Pope ahead of this clash. The England goalkeeper is ‘touch and go’, according to the manager, and if he isn’t available, Bailey Peacock-Farrell will take the spots between the posts, Peacock-Farrell whose four starts so far resulted in four defeats and 14 goals conceded.
Midfielder Dale Stephens is out, as are defenders Phil Bardsley and Kevin Long, and winger Robert Brady.
Ashley Barnes is known as a player who always gives Liverpool trouble, and there’s very little doubt he’ll be leading the attacking line with Chris Wood, with Matej Vydra on the bench.
Given everything they’ve gone through in the second half of the season, it’s really are marvel Liverpool are still in the race for Champions League qualification. Not only that, but they’re currently in control of their own fate in that respect.
Liverpool had no fewer than nine players missing through injury when they went to the Hawthorns on Sunday and they still won the match, albeit in a thrilling fashion as goalkeeper Alisson Becker went to the opposition box in the 95th minute to head the winning goal past West Brom’s Sam Johnstone.
In a recent interview, midfielder Fabinho spoke about how the expectations and goals shrunk throughout the season. Manager Jurgen Klopp and his players certainly wouldn’t have been happy had someone told them they would be where they are at this point, but now, finishing inside the top four is all they can hope for. And even for that, they will probably have to win both their remaining fixtures – this one, and at home against Crystal Palace on Sunday.
Liverpool are currently in fifth place with 63 points, just one less than Chelsea in fourth and three less than Leicester City in third. These two rivals face each other tonight (Tuesday), which means they can’t book six points both from the remaining two fixtures.
In the last six league games, Liverpool achieved four wins and two draws. They beat Aston Villa at home by 2-1, drew 1-1 away to Leeds and at home against Newcastle, beat Southampton by 2-0 at home, Manchester United 2-4 away, and WBA away by 1-2.
So, here it goes, the list of player Klopp won’t be able to take to Turf Moore:
Defenders Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Joel Matip, Ozan Kabak, Ben Davies. That’s five centre-backs. In midfield, there will be no captain Jordan Henderson, vice-captain James Milner, Naby Keita. Upfront, Diogo Jota misses out again, though Klopp says there’s a tiny chance the Portuguese could be fit for Sunday.
These last few games are coming thick, but there isn’t much room for resting players at the moment. The only question about the starting XI will be whether young Curtis Jones gets the nod ahead of Georginio Wijnaldum again, or we see the experienced Dutchman start what’s likely to be one of his last two games in a Liverpool shirt.
It’s worth noting at this point that Burnley were the first team to beat Liverpool at Anfield after a 68-game unbeaten home run in the league from the Reds earlier this season.
It remains to be seen if that proves enough to thwart the hungry visitors when they come for the vital three points, but the duo of Barnes and Wood should give Nathaniel Phillips and Rhys Williams in the Liverpool defence real problems. Liverpool are, of course the favourites to win, but it would hardly be a surprise if Burnley manage to put one past Alisson as well.
Verdict: Both teams to score
Best odds: 7/10
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