Liverpool continued their late-season surge for Champions League qualification as they leap-frogged Leicester City into fourth place. Goals from Roberto Firmino and Nat Phillips on either side of halftime, rounded off by a fantastic finish from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, means that Jurgen Klopp’s men know a win on the final day, pending a Leicester thrashing of Tottenham, will see them play in Europe’s elite competition next season.
There was just the one change for Klopp's side from the eleven that dramatically overcame West Brom at The Hawthorns on Sunday afternoon. Curtis Jones made way for Gini Wijnaldum, who reclaimed his place in the starting XI.
Sean Dyche also opted for changes as he looked to cause an upset in Burnley’s first home game in front of fans for just over 14 months. Will Norris came in place of Bailey Peacock-Farrell to make his Premier League debut; whilst Johann Berg Gudmundsson came in to replace Matej Vydra.
It was the home side who started the better of the two, no doubt, influenced by the roar of Clarets' fans for the time since March 2020. Liverpool, similarly to their last two games, started well under the cosh, sloppy passing, poor ball retention, and poor finishing all suggested it was going to be a difficult night for the Reds in Lancashire.
For all Burnley’s dominance in the opening stages, it was Liverpool who had the first big chance of the night. Sadio Mane was on-hand to follow up Trent Alexander-Arnold’s deflected shot. However, Mane, who most definitely should've opened the scoring for Liverpool, was unable to keep his effort goal-bound, as he dragged it horribly wide.
Burnley continued to probe Liverpool's goal as Chris Wood had great joy when paired up against Rhys Williams. Alisson Becker was able to make sure the game remained goalless until Liverpool found their shooting boots, later in the half, something that has been the achilles heel of their post-Christmas season.
Firmino was later gifted with a wonderful chance after some fantastic interlinking from Mohamed Salah and Mane. Salah’s ball into Mane was held up, before his backheel-flick found the on-rushing Firmino. Although, he was unable to trouble the debutant, Norris, in the Burnley goal.
Prior to Wednesday night, Klopp described this fixture as a “semi-final” for his side. Victory tonight would send his side into a final day shoot-out for a Champions League place, a feat, that based on the first half-hour of tonight's game would be something that wouldn’t look like they merited.
It looked like the script was already written for events in Lancashire when Thiago and Salah squandered chances in quick succession. As it began to increasingly look like they could be the victims of a footballing fairy tale, as Burnley fans continued to boo every Liverpool touch.
Any rehearsed script was ripped up by Firmino just before the interval. He fired Liverpool ahead after Andy Robertson picked him out superbly with a low-driven cross into the Burnley box. The celebrations of those in dark black told the story as they edged themselves closer to Champions League qualification, after Leicester’s slip-up at Stamford Bridge 24 hours earlier.
Burnley came racing out of the blocks just after the break as they nearly found themselves level, after Wood displayed tremendous pace to power past Liverpool’s central defensive duo. His shot, though, lacked venom as he couldn't generate enough pace on the ball to bend it past Alisson from the edge of the box.
The next goal of the contest was always going to be crucial and with each passing minute it felt more and more like it could be scored by one of those in a Claret shirt. However, it was Liverpool’s rising star Phillips who put the game beyond any doubt, for even the most pessimistic of Liverpool fan. He connected perfectly with Mane’s delicate cross to head in his first senior Liverpool goal.
That was the moment, his celebration said it all. It was no more than he has deserved for his efforts this season, as he’s emerged from the shadows to become a real warrior in the heart of Liverpool's defence.
Burnley continued to make a dogfight out of the game as they refused to surrender. Klopp, with one eye on Liverpool’s season being decided on goal difference, opted to go with Oxlade-Chamberlain from the bench as opposed to the experienced James Milner.
Klopp’s decision, almost immediately, came to fruition as Oxlade-Chamberlain smashed one into Norris’ goal from an incredibly tight angle to make sure Liverpool embarked on their trip back to Merseyside with the points in the bag. And, more importantly, the fate of their season in their own hands.
Liverpool in control
Jurgen Klopp's men became masters of their own fate as they made sure their season remained in the balance for the final embers of the campaign. Fresh from Leicester's defeat in the capital last night, Liverpool knew a win this evening would send them into their final day showdown with Crystal Palace knowing that a win would all but confirm their status amongst Europe's elite, for another season at least. For a season that most connected with Liverpool are keen to forget, a place in next seasons Champions League would reflect a very successful campaign, as it looked for all the world that they would have to settle for the Europa League only a few weeks back.
Nat Phillips continues his incredible rise
In a world of sliding doors, Liverpool's best piece of business this season could be Nat Phillips' move to Swansea falling through last October. The 24-year-old has had a meteoric rise over the past six months, alongside Rhys Williams. Although the latter seemed to struggle tonight, the pair have been crucial to Liverpool's success over the course of the campaign as center-back partnerships have been frequent. The duo have helped claw the Reds back into the race for Champions League football at the eleventh hour.
Burnley: Norris; Lowton, Taylor, Cork, Tarkowski, Mee, Gudmundsson, Brownhill, Wood, McNeil, Westwood.
Liverpool: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Phillips, Williams, Robertson, Fabinho, Thiago, Wijnaldum, Salah, Firmino, Mane.