Liverpool 2-1 Burnley: A massive win against a minnow club that had eluded the top-four hopefuls
Liverpool 2-1 Burnley
Liverpool: Wijnaldum (45’+1) Can (61’)
Burnley: Barnes (7’)
Man of the Match: Barnes (Burnley)
Winning when playing badly is sometimes said to be the hallmark of a good team. On Sunday’s evidence, that makes Liverpool a very fine team, simply because they were so undistinguished. Yet it was an odd occasion, simply because this was something Liverpool have done all too rarely.
“It is the first ugly game we won,” said Jurgen Klopp.
Perversely, it was the sort of victory Liverpool need to replicate more often and not merely because, while they had defeated Tottenham and Arsenal, they had not overcome a Premier League minnow in 2017 until Burnley’s narrow, cruel defeat.
“The result is massive for us,” Klopp concluded.
A side criticised for lacking a Plan B found a middle ground.
“Usually when we are not that good we lose,” Klopp admitted. “It feels a bit strange.”
Liverpool have veered between looking unstoppable and seeming all too stoppable, between blowing teams away and dropping points. This conformed to neither script. They won the key moments, and Georginio Wijnaldum’s equaliser on the stroke of half-time ranked as the turning point, to give them a five-point cushion on fifth-placed Arsenal.
They ground it out They provided a distillation of their problems and yet emerged triumphant, Klopp hugging his players afterwards in relief. They are no longer strangers to a scrappy win.
“We usually win good games, but the bad games and the average games we need to be challenging too,” the manager said.
It is a moot point if this belonged in the category of “bad” or “average”. At their best, Liverpool seem greater than the sum of their parts. At their worst, they look considerably less. Take two or three players out and the chemistry is gone. They were stripped of fluency against Burnley. Yet Divock Origi, standing in for the injured Roberto Firmino in attack, helped set up two goals. Emre Can, deputising for the sidelined Jordan Henderson as the holding midfielder, scored the winner, fizzing a shot into the bottom corner.
Such inspiration as they had came from Origi’s perspiration. Philippe Coutinho was as ineffectual as he has been since his November injury – it said something that he was replaced by the 17-year-old Ben Woodburn. Only Sadio Mane offered much menace.
Liverpool started sluggishly, a recurring theme for them in 2017. Burnley brimmed with purpose. They scarcely looked a side who now have two points from 42 away from home and could break Derby’s record for the fewest points on the road in a Premier League campaign.
“Today is a nearly but we have had too many nearlys on the road,” lamented their manager, Sean Dyche. His side have chalked up 2-1 defeats to top teams in recent months, going down by the same scoreline to Tottenham, Manchester City, Arsenal and now Liverpool.
They led with what he deemed “a sublime goal,” Ashley Barnes sweeping in Matt Lowton’s cross. Liverpool levelled through their first shot on target. Wijnaldum initially tried an audacious flick when Divock Origi’s cross came in. He missed, but it bounced back off Ben Mee for him to finish in more orthodox fashion.
“It drops beautifully,” rued Dyche.
Fortune favoured the Dutchman, who extended a remarkable record by scoring his 16th Premier League goal, all at home. In a side usually shorn of specialist strikers – Origi’s start was just his second in the division in 2017 – there is a reliance on midfielders for goals. The deepest two obliged.
Can’s decider was a redemptive moment. Klopp admitted his fellow German should have challenged Lowton for the Burnley goal. His fourth goal of the season was a fine way to make amends.
“Emre has an outstanding attitude,” Klopp said.
It will be required, with Henderson definitely out of Sunday’s trip to the Etihad Stadium. Once again, Liverpool may need to win ugly.
“If we want to stay where we are, then we need to win football games,” Klopp rationalised. And any way will do.
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Updated: March 12, 2017 04:00 AM