By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool play Burnley on Sunday as they look to potentially reclaim top spot in the Premier League after a run of poor results which has seen the Reds fall from the summit of the table for the first time since early December.
Liverpool’s performances since the turn of the year have been quite perplexing, especially when Jurgen Klopp’s men managed to win every single one of their games in December.
Draws against United and Everton away from home aren’t necessarily bad points, but the manner in which we went about achieving those points made it seem as if it were two points dropped rather than a point gained.
Burnley have had a bit of a mini-renaissance since the two sides met in December, they went on to lose a further three games in four after the 3-1 defeat but have since then gained 18 points from 24. This turn of form lifted them from the relegation zone to 16th place, FIVE points clear of 18th place Cardiff City.
In their last eight games, Liverpool have won four and drawn four, for any team in the mix for the title, two points at Old Trafford and Goodison would be deemed good points. However, we are competing with arguably the best Premier League squad ever assembled so it could come back to bite us.
Three of those four victories have come at Anfield with the Reds’ scoring at least three goals on each occasion, with some of our best football in recent weeks being played there. Scoring 13 goals in four games at Anfield is quite a feat even by our standards.
The fans are clearly helping the team while hampering the opposition. This was admitted by Bournemouth defender Steve Cook, who said that within a couple of minutes they knew they were in for a real test.
Yet it’s our away form that’s lacking, but some positives can be taking away from these poor away performances.
We have looked far from our best yet still managed to keep clean sheets. The saying “attack wins you games, but defence wins you titles” could be once again proved true. The Reds’ have four away games remaining in the season, all teams are 14th or lower meaning points should be picked up.
Burnley all but looked set for relegation just over two months ago, after the Liverpool defeat, they sat in 19th pace with only nine points. Sean Dyche reinstated Tom Heaton into the starting line-up after Joe Hart had a string of poor performances.
Bringing Heaton into the team have seen them amass 18 from 24, a point average of 2.25 points per game, for context over a 38-game season that average would see Burnley comfortably finish inside the top four.
The most impressive performances in that eight-game undefeated run was the point they achieved at Old Trafford and their victory over Spurs at Turf Moor. They were unlucky to be pegged back against United. They took a 2-0 lead and conceded two late goals.
Both games saw the midland club register 30% possession or less and concede a total of 45 shots on goal. Sean Dyche had Tom Heaton to thank and he will likely play a predominant role at Anfield. There defence is not as tight as most think. Conceding 45 shots in two games is absurd and will eventually lead to them conceding quite a few goals. Hopefully for us it’s at Anfield.
Jurgen Klopp has an almost full squad ready for selection and Sunday, Joe Gomez and Oxlade-Chamberlain are back in full training but are not expected to be back until the end of March. James Milner is nursing a tight hamstring injury and will be assessed before the game.
Jurgen Klopp suggested that he left out Keita and Shaqiri in Liverpool’s last couple of games due to the opponent’s physicality, Burnley are one of the more physical sides in the Premier League so it’s unlikely the duo will be in the starting line-up, even of Naby Keita had one of his better performances for Liverpool in the reverse fixture.
Alisson Becker will look to keep his sixth clean sheet in as many games on the way to keeping the most clean sheets in a debut season since Pepe Reina.
Trent Alex-Arnold and Andy Robertson, who provided all five of Liverpool’s goals against Watford should start at fullback. Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip will look to continue their growing partnership despite the return of Dejan Lovren.
Fabinho has been an ever present since the start of December and will likely remain in the team until the end of the season. With Naby Keita unlikely to feature it would mean Wijnaldum and Henderson will complete the midfield. One that does not install much confidence into the fan base due to a lack of forward runs and forward passes.
Sadio Mane has scored in each of his last four appearance at Anfield, finding the back of the net five times. Alongside him Firmino and Salah should start despite the duo registering poor performances recently.
Sean Dyche has utilised a 4-4-2 formation when up against the bigger sides of the Premier League this season. By using this formation, it allows Burnley to sit deep with two banks of four. This formation allows for defensive solidity while also having two strikers up front to hit on the counter.
Tom Heaton will look to continue his excellent form since returning to the team, as mentioned he has helped Burnley claim 2.25 points a game. This isn’t just a coincidence as his points average per game in his entire Burnley is pretty much the same.
Stand-out performances against Spurs and United mean Liverpool’s strikers need be even more clinical than they have been in recent weeks.
A back four of Beardsley, Tarkowski, Ben Mee and Taylor will, like Heaton look to continue their excellent defensive form as of late. Tarkowski has often been linked with a move to Liverpool since a standout season 12 months ago, yet nothing materialised. His name still gets mentioned from time to time but Liverpool need a player of much better quality to compete on all fronts.
Jeff Hendrick and Dwight McNeil will start on the flanks. Hendrick is naturally a central player so will likely support Jack Cork and Westwood in midfield. McNeil is quite the workhorse on the wing, he often covers every blade of grass on that left flank and will look to support the two strikers at every opportunity.
Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes are probably the most physical forward line in the league, both excel when in a physical battle with a defender so if Burnley do get a foothold in the game, Joel Matip will likely be targeted due to his lanky frame.
Last five matches
Premier League: 05/12/2018 – Burnley 1-3 Liverpool
Premier League: 01/01/2018 – Burnley 1-2 Liverpool
Premier League: 16/09/2017 – Liverpool 1-1 Burnley
Premier League: 12/03/2017 – Liverpool 2-1 Burnley
Premier League: 20/08/2016 – Burnley 2-0 Liverpool
Nothing less than a strong performance and a Liverpool victory should be expected from this game.
Sean Dyche side have been excellent over recent weeks though a recent blip should mean the form in his team will be disrupted and confidence will be shot. Their two physical forwards shouldn’t cause much of a problem with van Dijk in defence and Fabinho sitting deep meaning it could be quite a frustrating day for Wood and Barnes.
Henderson and Wijnaldum need to step up their game and provide more chances for our forward players who need to feed off scraps if our full backs can’t get forward enough. The midfield has created less than 10 big chances for our forwards.
Oxlade-Chamberlain and Coutinho were the link between midfield and attack last season and no one has filled in that role. Firmino has tried and has somewhat failed though we have won 13 of 14 games in which the Brazilian has started in the No.10 role.
With Anfield in full voice I expect it to be a fairly routine win for Liverpool, the pressure is slightly off as we now sit in second place but there is still quite a lot of it as we look to keep up with Man City.
I’m going for a comfortable 2-0 win for Liverpool. Alisson will keep is 18th clean sheet in the league, while Mane will fine the back of the Anfield net for the fifth game running.
Final score: Liverpool 2 (Mane, Salah) – 0 Burnley