To play three games in six days was always going to be a big task. It’s never easy to find time to recover ready for the next games, especially when the next game is only forty eight hours away. When you take into account our opponents for those games – Leicester City, Burnley and Everton – the scale of the task becomes greater. They may not be the hardest opponents we will face this season but they are all awkward games nonetheless. Rotation was always going to take place bearing in mind Jurgen Klopp’s penchant for tinkering with his teams this season. After beating Leicester on Saturday, Burnley were next up and this game was sure to test the strength in depth of our squad.
Sean Dyche has a relatively small squad to work with and was only able to make one change to his side for this game. Having come back from injury James Tarkowski was back in the fold, replacing Kevin Long. Nick Pope has impressed in goal since deputising for Tom Heaton and continued between the sticks today. Chris Wood has proved to be a good signing since moving from Leeds United during the summer transfer window but couldn’t even make the bench today, with Ashley Barnes foraging ahead up front with only Jeff Hendrick in support.
In contrast, Klopp made seven changes to the team which came back from 1-0 down to beat Leicester 2-1 at Anfield on Saturday. Simon Mignolet replaced Loris Karius in goal and took the captains armband too. Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren retained their places in defence, but Andy Robertson and Joel Matip were rested. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ragnar Klavan would take their places. Virgil van Dijk is now officially a Liverpool player but this game would come too soon for him. He is likely to make his debut in a red shirt in the F.A Cup game against Everton on Friday night. Emre Can also survived the cull and was joined in midfield by Adam Lallana, making his first start of the season, and Gini Wijnaldum. Roberto Firmino was dropped to the bench, Philippe Coutinho was dropped altogether and Mohamed Salah picked up a slight thigh injury at the weekend. Sadio Mane would start, however, as would Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Dominic Solanke.
Liverpool began the game with most of the ball and troubled Burnley early on. Adam Lallana was showing why he was missed so much, finding space in midfield where there seemed to be none. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was also very much involved in the play and his energy on the left wing was causing Phil Bardsley issues. He would have the first chance of the game too when he won the ball in midfield and drove towards goal, before unleashing a shot from twenty-five yards which was comfortably saved by Pope.
Burnley were clearly attempting to keep men behind the ball and hit Liverpool on the break. Ashley Barnes was playing most of the first period in his own half, putting Lovren and Klavan under pressure at any opportunity. As the game wore on it started to pay off for them. Barnes won the ball in the Liverpool penalty area but could only screw his shot wide. He also had another chance when he nicked it in midfield and saw a shot blocked, before Steven Defour’s cross was flicked straight into Mignolet’s arms by Scott Arfield. As a stale first half drew to a close it seemed as if the home side were on top. They had executed their tactics much better than Liverpool had and it looked as if Klopp’s gamble to make wide-scale changes was not paying off.
The second half began in the same lacklustre fashion and a goal did not look forthcoming for either side for long periods. Liverpool were still struggling for possession against a hard working Burnley team. Chances were few and far between, and The Reds were lacking the creative spark usually provided by Phil Coutinho and Mo Salah. However, when a bit of magic was needed it was provided by a familiar source.
Of the fab four, it would be fair to say that Sadio Mane has been the Ringo Starr of the group lately. He has been out of form and there have been whispers of discontent regarding his continued selection. What he was about to pull off was simply sublime though and proved that class is permanent. Alexander-Arnold was played a wayward ball down the right flank which he did well to keep in. He hit a first-time hopeful ball from the touchline across the edge of the box which was picked up by Mane. In one movement, he turned tightly before lashing a precise shot past Nick Pope and into the roof of the net. It was a fantastic finish and the cool Senegalese winger simply jogged towards the Liverpool support, arms outstretched, with his team-mates sprinting behind him. Liverpool had an unlikely lead. Could they hold onto it?
Burnley’s response o going behind will have been just what Sean Dyche will have wanted from his side. They began to get men forward and Dyche brought on Nahki Wells to give his side more pace and men up front. They began to win set pieces and their tactic seemed to be to win flick-ons. Ashley Barnes had a big chance in the centre of the box which he put wide with nobody around him. But Burnley would get their goal.
They had crossed in frequently and won the flick-ons they had set out to win but with little success. With three minutes left of the game, Charlie Taylor took a throw near the corner flag on the Burnley left, which he received back to cross in. Sam Vokes rose above Klavan and Lovren to win the header and flick it towards the back post – where Johann Berg Gudmundsson had lost his marker. Simon Mignolet appealed for offside but it was no use. The linesman’s flag stayed down and Gudmundsson had the simple task of nodding home from all of three yards. In fairness, it was no less than Burnley deserved. However, Jurgen Klopp will have been annoyed at his side’s inability to learn from their mistakes having faced this situation three or four times already before the goal. In the end, though, it wouldn’t matter.
The fourth official signalled there would be four minutes of time added on and both sides began to push for a winner. In the last minute of injury time, Liverpool won a free kick centrally, about thirty-five yards from goal. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain stepped up and lifted it to the back post. Dejan Lovren was sharpest and refused to give on the cross. He jumped above Mee and Tarkowski to head t across the box. It looked as if it was going in but Ragnar Klavan gambled and made sure. He fended off Bardsley to bundle the ball over the line at the back post to send the Liverpool supporters behind the goal into a frenzy. As white shirts gathered behind in front of the Travelling Kop, Jurgen Klopp punched the air on the touchline as Liverpool had surely now won the game. When the referee called time a minute after the restart it ensured that Liverpool had won their first away game on New Year’s Day in twenty-four years.
The criticism of Liverpool this season for not putting away sides like Burnley has been decreasing as of late. This game went in the face of a lot of criticism’s of Liverpool actually. First of all, Klopp’s seven change gamble obviously paid off despite him being lambasted for it before kick off. Secondly, Liverpool don’t usually score this late in games but managed to win this one in the last minute. Finally, this is the second game in a week which we have come from behind to win. This result takes our unbeaten streak to sixteen now and our form has been imperious as of late. It’s hard to think what this side could be capable of doing.