Brendan Rodgers denies Liverpool were lucky after Raheem Sterling’s winner
BURNLEY // When Raheem Sterling sped into the Burnley box to deliver Liverpool’s first league win in four attempts, their side consisted of Simon Mignolet, two defenders and eight midfielders shoehorned into roles that, in several cases, they have rarely occupied.
Their performance, some felt, was nearing the levels of wretchedness reached in the away games against Basel and Crystal Palace, which represent the twin nadirs in a miserable season.
Yet once Sterling had rounded Tom Heaton and scored his third goal in as many games, Liverpool secured a result that probably ranks among the best of their campaign.
That is an indictment in itself, given the gulf in resources that separates them from Burnley.
The underfunded underdogs dominated the first half.
Liverpool, as they have done so often this season, looked unprepared, unable to rise to the challenge and incapable of playing their passing game.
Yet they departed Turf Moor with a result that has the potential to prove a turning point, even if the performance indicates it is likelier to be one of the false dawns that have pockmarked Liverpool’s season.
Certainly it is hard to argue that this is a formula for success, even though the match-winner was one of the midfielders chosen out of position.
Not all of Brendan Rodgers’s left-field selections are logic-defying and Sterling has added sharpness to a blunt Liverpool attack since being shifted further forward.
His pace was used on the flanks or between the lines last season; now it is deployed behind opposition defences and Sterling sprung the offside trap to surge on to Philippe Coutinho’s hooked pass.
The scenario was familiar, eerily similar to when Sterling burst clear against Manchester United and was denied by David de Gea.
Sterling, 20, illustrated he has greater composure now.
“He is a quick learner,” Rodgers said. “His pace will take him away from anyone and since that game he has gone away with the coaches and worked on that type of finish, both left side and right side.”
Meanwhile, Mario Balotelli, who has not provided any sort of successful finish for Liverpool in the Premier League, languished on the bench.
Rickie Lambert, who lacks the speed to run in behind defences, made a brief cameo.
In Daniel Sturridge’s absence, Sterling has surged to the front of the striking pecking order.
Goalscorers have a capacity to distort games and camouflage flaws.
Sterling’s strike enabled Rodgers to argue Liverpool were not lucky. “Not at all,” he insisted to a disbelieving audience. “We deserved three points for the character we showed.”
Burnley were not inclined to agree.
“We had our pocket pinched with how they got away with a win,” manager Sean Dyche said. “That was as well as we have played, considering the opposition, since I have been at the club.
“If not totally dominant, we were very dominant.”
Yet their superiority was not reflected in the scoreline.
The margins, as Dyche noted, are narrow.
Danny Ings drilled a shot against the base of the post.
Lucas Leiva got the slightest of deflections to stop Scott Arfield’s shot nestling in the net.
Liverpool kept a clean sheet in a game where not one but two much-maligned goalkeepers were not beaten.
Brad Jones, who scarcely moved for Ings’s shot, went off a minute later with a thigh injury.
The dropped Mignolet’s return came after a three-game exile. “He didn’t have a lot to do,” Rodgers said, crediting his defence.
The back three in question changed at half-time when Rodgers removed Kolo Toure and brought on Emre Can – completing an octet of midfielders – as an auxiliary centre-back.
He left out there Lazar Markovic, the ersatz left wing-back who had been outmanoeuvred and outnumbered by George Boyd and Kieran Trippier, while refusing to alter his 3-4-2-1 system.
“I felt that wasn’t our problem,” Rodgers said.
The manager’s words were no more convincing than his team’s display but, should this prove part of a revival, the result will have an eloquence of its own.
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Published: December 26, 2014 04:00 AM