Burnley 1 – Liverpool 2: Match Review & Analysis

How’s the hangover? Were you up late seeing in the New Year? Did you feel as though this match was going to be a slog before a ball was kicked? It might say more about how I spent my evening that I certainly did. I wasn’t really looking forward this one, knowing that Burnley are more than capable of causing us problems and are one of the few teams that have fully deserved the point they took away from Anfield when they scored early against us and stopped our attack from playing their free-flowing football earlier in the campaign. Since the start of the season The Clarets have conceded just six league goals at Turf Moor, with three of those coming in one match against Tottenham. It was clear that we were going to have to earn the right to play and battle for ball.

So often nowadays supporters feel as though we should be able to beat any team based on their name rather than their performances. Because Burnley are seen as being a second-rate team, some fans think that we’ll just need to turn up in order to claim all three points. Yet throughout the campaign up until kick-off they’d taken a point away from Anfield, a point away from Old Trafford and Wembley, beaten Everton at Goodison Park and won against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. They are no mugs and Sean Dyche knows how to set them up to keep everyone back and keep things tight. It was always going to be a game that Liverpool were going to have to slog their way through, despite some commentators suggesting that our domination of the game meant that we should be cutting Burnley open every five minutes. They played with ten men behind the ball and no desire to keep hold of it, so expecting an exciting game was naive at best.

We’re Learning How To Dig Deep

Lately I’ve been really quick to criticise supporters for doing the team down at every available opportunity. I find it really tedious and feel as though a lot of people do it just to smugly be able to say ‘I told you so’ if and when Liverpool drop points. I don’t like it because I think it’s a demonstration of a lack of understanding of nuance in football, to say nothing of the fact that it also suggests people don’t quite appreciate how far we’ve fallen in recent times. We’ve finished second in the league three times in the Premier League era, with more finishes from sixth to eighth over the last decade than higher than that. Despite what some people might wish to believe, it takes time for football teams to learn how to grind out results and it comes with experience, not wishing and hoping from the stands. That’s why I’m so delighted with our last two results, in which we’ve been forced to dig deep to grind out results against two very good sides.

The Leicester win was an entirely different type of performance today, with the Reds being totally in control for the entire match and always looking likely to score. At Turf Moor we needed to fight for every single ball, chase down Burnley whenever they looked like trying to hit us on the break and engage in their physical battle. I think the manager got his team selection and tactics absolute spot on, knowing that we wouldn’t be allowed to turn up in Lancashire and play gorgeous football. He picked a team that knows how to battle, with Emre Can in his element against a team that wanted to scrap. I don’t really understand the massive fuss over the German that some Liverpool fans seem to see, but I thought he looked impressive for the majority of the match today. This was a win that deserves to be celebrated in its own right, but that will likely have long-term benefits for the team too.

It Was Great To See Lallana Back

If the team’s ability to dig deep and fight for the win was impressive to watch then equally as satisfying was the return to the starting line-up of Adam Lallana. The England midfielder has been sorely missed so far this season and you could see exactly what he brings to the team at times today. His ability to use both feet and control the ball well in tight positions helps when you’re playing a team that has absolutely no desire to come out of their half or keep hold of the ball for any length of time. His pressing is also vital to this Liverpool team’s ability to refuse to give the opposition any time to get settled. Midway through the first-half he managed to throw in a last-ditch tackle that stopped Burnley from breaking, winning the ball brilliantly in a manner that would have seen him sent off if he’d got it wrong. He was seen as a bit of a luxury player when he first signed, but fans are starting to understand exactly what he adds to the team now.

It goes without saying that his return to the team has come at exactly the right time. The manager’s decision to rotate through his squad so much over the last month or so has drawn criticism from some, including in the stands at Anfield. Yet the reality of the situation is that we’ve had a large number of games within a short space of time and Jürgen Klopp’s decision to keep moving fresh lads into the team has paid dividends. The return of Lallana gives him another set of legs to use in the middle of the park when Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho are both out injured. He knows Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from both players’s time away with England, so it was no surprise to see them working well with each other as the match wore on. Lallana’s running also ensures that no one else in the team has an excuse not to do the same, especially when you consider how long he’s been out injured for. If a man with little to know match fitness can keep closing and pressing until he’s taken off, why can’t everyone else?

van Dijk Will Be Joining A Defence On A High

The signing of Virgil van Dijk has given everyone a lift, quite understandably. The Dutchman is a class act, despite the struggles he’s had in recent times after being forced to stay at St. Mary’s past the summer in spite of his clear desire to leave. He’s a defensive leader, a man who knows how to deal with the sorts of situations that we have struggled with in the past and a player who thinks that communication is key to playing well. Make no mistake, though, he’s joining a defence that is nowhere near as bad as plenty of people are desperate to make out. The defence has conceded a mere 9.5 shots every away game so far this season, according to FourFourTwo. The issue comes from the fact that over 44% of those have been on target and more than 20% of them have resulted in goals. So we allow the second-fewest shot, but the most on target and leading to goals.

Ragnar Klavan arrived at the club entirely unheralded and I think even Jürgen Klopp would admit that he had to use him more than he would have liked last season. Regardless, I always thought it was a bit sad the way that some Liverpool fans decided to right him off any time he had a less than sparkling performance. When we beat Manchester City last New Year’s Eve the Estonian was excellent, stopping Sergio Agüero from having any joy whatsoever. I haven’t been as surprised as some, therefore, that he’s performed well when he’s been called upon this season. Likewise Dejan Lovren is nowhere near as poor a defender as you’d think if you only read social media comments. I’ve been really impressed with them both in the last few matches I’ve seen them play and their performances against Arsenal deserved more credit than they got. It’s great that we’ve signed a player that will transform our defence, but let’s start to acknowledge that it’s actually performing very well already.

Solanke Still Has So Much To Learn

I’ve been quietly impressed with Dominic Solanke whenever he’s been brought into the starting line-up. Even when his name was the shock in the eleven that played against Everton in the Merseyside derby, I thought he did exactly what the manager will have asked of him and was let down by wayward play from both Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané. I wasn’t surprised to see him starting today, with the manager hinting earlier in the week that he was going to use his squad as much as possible. I also thought that he closed, rushed and harried the Burnley defenders right up until the final whistle, not giving them time to breathe and getting absolutely no help from the referee. Roger East decided that it was a free-kick every time a player in Claret went to ground when up against the youngster, but when he was dragged to the floor he received absolutely nothing.

Even so, he still showed today why he’s not yet good enough to be starting matches regularly. I think he adds more to the team than Divock Origi, so I can see why the manager allowed the Belgian to go out on loan once the former Chelsea man had been signed. But he made the wrong choices a few times today, when a better or more sensible pass would have put us in a great position. Perhaps it’s a matter of needing to get off the mark and then getting the confidence to go on from there. Maybe it’s that the man in the dugout has asked him to bring others into the game in the same way that Roberto Firmino does and not worry about trying to score all of the time. Whatever the logic, he’s looking good but still has a long way to go to put pressure on the manager to pick him more regularly.

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