Liverpool are in hunting mode. They hunted down Burnley having gone a goal down early on and came back to claim a vital victory. Consequently they continue to hunt down Premier League leaders Manchester City, reducing the gap from four points back down to one. Whether Liverpool prefer to be the hunters rather than the hunted, this showing certainly suggested that their title bid is far from over.
Nevertheless, this was a test; provided by an obdurate yet enterprising Burnley, an unconvincing refereeing performance and, of course, the dramatically, changeable weather. Liverpool though stood tall and managed to rise above such obstacles to close the gap at the top of the table. By the end, the sun had reappeared and it felt quite apt given the few grey clouds which had started to appear following five draws in seven games.
Though it must be said that Liverpool have not deviated wildly at all this season. They have been relatively constant although not as effervescent as last season. There have been disappointing draws, some may say too many, but also encouraging wins. Liverpool’s season has not been as topsy-turvy as some may lead you to believe and that the month is March and Liverpool are still in touch with the sublime City must be remembered and applauded.
Four goals important after a few blanks
This, crucially, was a win with goals. Four scored; two each for Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino making Liverpool the first team in the league to have three players all in double-figures for goalscoring this season.
It was in many ways a full repertoire for Jurgen Klopp’s side, but Liverpool’s second was the most appealing. Klopp is probably fed up of his team being compared to their title challengers but this goal certainly was City-esque as Mo Salah pulled the ball back from the byline for Firmino to tap into an empty net.
That came after a Mane drive and before Firmino was able to slot home Liverpool’s third having taken advantage of a Tom Heaton clearance which was held up in the wind, highlighting further the difficult conditions that both sides had to face. A fourth came as Mane rounded the goalkeeper and secured Liverpool the three points.
The only downside to Liverpool’s attacking was that Salah himself did not get on the scoresheet and subdue the undue criticism that has come his way for not reaching the exceptional standards that he set in the last campaign. Yet Salah’s performance as a whole was good and Klopp even labelled his display as the best on the pitch. He was determined and creative albeit lacking a little precision.
Electric Lallana gave Liverpool energy and enterprise
What Liverpool did have though was a true conjurer of attacks with Adam Lallana back in the team and providing imagination and a tireless work ethic. Klopp interestingly gave Lallana and Georginio Wijnaldum a free role either side of Fabinho in midfield. With both full-backs urged to push on, Wijnaldum and, especially, Lallana found joy receiving the ball alongside the centre-backs and pushing upfield from deep.
It brought the best out of the returning Lallana who was able to drift and drive in equal measure. His quick give-and-go’s, along with a relentless pressing when without the ball, was key to breaching a stubborn Burnley side. It was his cross-field ball to Salah that set Liverpool’s equaliser in motion and his constant rallying and quick reactions served the hosts well.
Using Lallana and Wijnaldum in this way worked well for Klopp, which is more than can be said for his decision to continue with the use of long ball tactics in the first half, rather than patiently working their way into good positions which ultimately was where the goals came from. Against Burnley, that was always going to be a questionable approach and, with the gale blowing over the main stand, it was even tougher for Liverpool to action.
Burnley show greater creativity
Liverpool though were shaken early on and conceding straight from a corner kick should always raise questions. There were protests that Alisson had been blocked by James Tarkowski as Ashley Westwood sent the in-swinging delivery but the frustrations should have really been directed at Joel Matip for gifting the corner in the sixth minute.
Burnley, though, were difficult opponents in more ways than one. Dwight McNeil, an academy graduate still only 19 years old, was the pick of the bunch and frequently showed his quick turn of pace when one-on-one with Trent Alexander-Arnold, who is far from a slouch himself. His was a polished performance for someone so young.
McNeil offers Sean Dyche something different and alongside a midfield of Westwood, Jack Cork and Jeff Hendrick, Burnley have a core that is defensive yet imaginative. Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes couldn’t get on the scoresheet but, still, the attacking duo caused Virgil van Dijk and Matip problems and offered a distinct and unusual challenge.
All still to play for at top and bottom
This defeat leaves Burnley teetering on the brink of the drop zone but this was always going to be a game on which positives were to be drawn from rather the three points necessarily. And despite conceding four goals, Dyche’s defence worked cohesively and frustrated the home crowd with their last-ditch blocks and sliding interceptions.
And the visitor’s never-say-die attitude was laid bare when substitute Johann Berg Gudmundsson scored from close range, it wasn’t enough to give Burnley anything tangible for their survival fight but the attitude showed that they are in the right place to mount a struggle.
Like Burnley, Liverpool have little margin for error, that’s why Klopp gave more high-fives at full time than you could wave a stick at. This was a test but, nevertheless, another one ticked off and completed. Performances like this will need to keep coming if Liverpool are to push City to the wire.