Liverpool are chasing Manchester City but it does not feel like they are in a rush. This makes them more difficult to understand – maybe a sort of contradiction in real terms – because when their players are at their roaring best, it seems as though they chase everything.
The Reds' victories have been without the drama of the hunt or the excitement of the leads they build up. Instead they are creeping. Perhaps they are warming up. Jurgen Klopp is now in his fourth season as manager. Surely now he appreciates the league is about endurance; about staying the distance and not going away. Will their creeping be enough to unnerve City, who have been outstanding but probably should be further than two points ahead of a rival that has not fired consistently yet remain unbeaten?
Rather than worry about City’s capacity to overwhelm, Liverpool and their supporters should be reassured by the manner with which progress is being made. A 96th-minute win on Sunday was followed three days later by one where they fell behind in the second half but still claimed another three points comfortably , despite Klopp making seven changes to his starting XI.
Klopp had reached the tricky stage where if Liverpool drop points and his players look tired, it is immediately suggested that he should be resting more. Then, if he does choose to make changes – particularly as many as he did here – he is accused of taking gambles. A win is taken as a masterstroke, proof that that Liverpool’s squad is deep and his judgement is sound. Anything but a win and the opposite conclusion is arrived at. This? A masterstroke, then…
The night mist of the Pennines created a murky atmosphere inside Turf Moor but even in the clearest day, you probably were not going to see Daniel Sturridge chasing James Tarkowski. You might see James Milner chasing Jack Cork but not much on this occasion because Burnley, with one point from their last six games, were waiting in midfield rather than forcing.
Liverpool’s start was not disjointed. But it did lack punch. Their concentration was not helped by the injury to Joe Gomez, who fell under a fierce but fair tackle from Ben Mee before nestling by the electronic advertising hoardings in front of the Jimmy McIlroy Stand. It took a while for Liverpool’s medical team to decide what to do with him but in the end, as he held the lower part of his leg, he was heaved onto a stretcher that he seemed reluctant to get on to. A massive shame for Liverpool. If a player of the season was selected now, he probably would be it.
By then, Burnley had fashioned an opportunity, which should have given them some belief. The manner with which it was squandered instead seemed to knock their confidence. The combination of a long pass and a flick from Ashley Barnes left Chris Wood through on goal, a striker with one goal since the end of August. It showed, as his hesitancy enabled Joel Matip the chance of an interception. Barnes – whose last goal was just a few weeks later than Wood’s – appeared the more threatening and composed of the Burnley strikers and his volley from Robbie Brady’s free-kick was glorious, yet delivered several yards offside.
That was about it for the first half. Liverpool’s approach was sometimes neat and promising – Naby Keita and Milner were having busy games and Keita emerged clearly as man-of-the-match; though in attack, there was limited understanding between a duo of forgotten boys by last season’s standards, with Sturridge and Divock Origi unable seriously worry Burnley.
After half time, Liverpool initially looked more likely to open the scoring but in their way was Joe Hart, someone who has not made a habit of making big saves over the last few seasons. Two here were his: both from long-range; the first from Sturridge was one you’d expect a decent goalkeeper to turn around the post but the second by Keita was a bit more special because it involved fingertips and woodwork.
From there, the temperature of the game began to rise. Burnley’s lead was established in what had seemed controversial circumstances because Alisson had both of his palms on the ball when Barnes bundled it out of his possession, enabling Cork to force the ball over the line. It did not seem, however, that the Brazilian have the necessary level of control for it to be considered a foul.
Liverpool were playing much better but they were behind. They were level through Milner who delivered just what was needed at precisely the right time. His finish from the edge of the box could not have been any more him if he tried. Klopp had been planning to introduce Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah just before it went in and Liverpool’s equaliser did not stop him. Three minutes later, the momentum had swung completely Liverpool’s way, with Firmino scoring with his first touch via a Trent Alexander-Arnold free-kick and van Dijk’s cut-back.
From there, Liverpool’s victory felt certain. Burnley tried but trying is not enough against Liverpool. After Mee’s header clattered against the bar, Liverpool sprung a counter-attack and outcome was settled by Xherdan Shaqiri. Liverpool creep on.
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