Liverpool were the only top six team having a Premier League match this weekend with the remaining five taking part in the FA Cup quarter-finals. Liverpool hosted Burnley on the back of a resounding win against Arsenal.
Divock Origi replaced Roberto Firmino from the previous match with Dejan Lovren missing out due to a back issue. Burnley captain Tom Heaton was back in the lineup while Robbie Brady was benched for Scott Arfield.
Ashley Barnes opened the scoring in the seventh minute before Liverpool drew level on the stroke of half-time through Georginio Wijnaldum. Emre Can scored a beauty in the second-half to put Liverpool ahead and the Reds held on to seal three points and reach within a point of Manchester City and Tottenham, with both of them having a game in hand.
Without further ado, here are the 5 talking points from the match.
#1 Burnley spring a surprise
Since the scintillating thrashings Liverpool have dished out in the beginning of the season to teams visiting Anfield and trying to play on the front foot, teams have learnt to sit back and defend deep while countering at every possible opportunity. This has particularly worked well during the home games of the respective team against the Reds and Burnley were expected to go about their plan in a similar manner.
However, to everyone’s surprise, Sean Dyche’s men instead took the game to a lacklustre Liverpool in the first half. The Clarets played direct and effective football with their midfield and defence trying to deliver the ball to the two forwards in Ashley Barnes and Andre Gray. This worked extremely well in the first half as Burnley created chances, pounced on any Liverpool sloppiness and prevented Liverpool from having a shot on target for most of the half.
The goal came from a similar scenario when Burnley right-back Matthew Lowton was allowed to have acres of space with no Liverpool player hurrying him and he delivered a superb first-time ball across the box that was turned home by Barnes to give The Clarets a shock lead in the opening ten minutes. The goal was a just reward for Burnley’s efforts and tactics and they continued in a similar fashion for the rest of the half.
#2 Liverpool’s Jekyll and Hyde form continues
Liverpool have had a few atrocious games this season where barely any of the players turned up and led to bad losses starting from Burnley away in August, to Swansea at home recently, and against Leicester a couple of gameweeks ago. The fact that none of those defeats came against the top 6 shows their mentality against more defensive opposition. But, after the 3-1 win against Arsenal last week, there was a better mood all around with lessons being learnt.
However, when the game began, barring one chance created by the ever-reliable Sadio Mane, the team was flat for most of the half. Emre Can, Adam Lallana and Phillipe Coutinho were sloppy in their passing and did not look sharp at all when the team attacked. As Burnley pushed Liverpool deeper even after the goal, there was a notable silence in the crowd as recent losses against teams from the bottom of the table started playing in their heads.
During these times, it is sometimes necessary to have a bit of luck and Liverpool were finally provided with the same at the stroke of half-time. Gini Wijnaldum took full advantage of it to draw Liverpool level going into the break.
#3 Both teams demonstrate respective season forms in the second half
Burnley’s home form has been sensational this season as they have picked up 29 points from home games while losing 11 out of 13 away games. Meanwhile, Liverpool’s home form has seen just one loss to Swansea this season.
So, when Liverpool finally turned up in the second half, Burnley were gradually pegged back and Emre Can scored a peach of a goal after the hour mark to put Liverpool in the lead.
From that point, Liverpool showed application and resolve to deny Burnley too many chances and Sean Dyche threw in Sam Vokes in place of Andre Gray to provide a more traditional striker to act as a focal point for the attack. This was followed by the introduction of Robbie Brady’s useful left-foot in place of the hard-working George Boyd. A major chance was created in the second-half with the equaliser averted only due to Ragnar Klavan’s willingness to put his body on the line.
Liverpool sent in Lucas to shore up the defence in place of Origi - who picked up an assist for Can’s goal - and he did a good job to ensure Burnley do not get into any dangerous positions in the final minutes. Overall, the final result was a combination of Burnley’s wretched away form and Liverpool’s superb home form.
#4 New stars emerge
While the usual suspects in attack for Liverpool are Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana, there was a change in script for this game. Firmino missed the game due to injury. Coutinho has hit a wall since his return from injury and was rightfully replaced by the young Ben Woodburn on the hour mark. Mane was trying to make things happen while Lallana had a poor game by his standards although one Cruyff turn in the first-half does stand out.
In such a scenario, new stars emerged for Liverpool as Wijnaldum scored the all-important equaliser making it three goals in his last five PL games. The goal gave the people and players hope that this will not turn out like the depressing losses previously and definitely helped the team’s morale.
Emre Can popped up with a terrific goal in the second-half to put Liverpool ahead. Further, both Georginio Wijnaldum and Emre Can had top quality second-halves with Can finding his rhythm in the defensive midfielder role and Wijnaldum playing his box-to-box role effectively. When bigger stars of a team are off colour, it is the sign of a good team to find new match-winners and Liverpool demonstrated that quality.
#5 Liverpool finally grind out a win
One of the biggest problems of this Liverpool squad is their inability to hold onto a win. This trait was glaringly exposed at Bournemouth where a 3-1 lead in the second-half was thrown away. Moreover, one normally sees attacking substitutions from Jurgen Klopp even while the team is winning. However, this time he showed this team has learnt the importance and the way to grind out a win.
In the second half with Liverpool having a one goal advantage, Klopp chose to replace Belgium striker Origi with a defensive midfielder Lucas. The Brazilian helped see out the match well and this outlined a bit more respect from Klopp for the quality the opposition possessed and reacting accordingly.
In his post-match interview, he said as much by saying, “It’s the first ugly game we’ve won, usually we aren’t that good and we lose!”
The result continued Burnley’s search for their first away win this season while Liverpool showed growth from last season by equalling the total number of wins in the entire 2015/16 Premier League season. While there is some way to go for Liverpool to finish in the top 4, this victory will bode them well as the competition heats up in the next couple of months.