One game to go. Three points required.
Former Reds manager Roy Hodgson – who will retire after the game on Sunday – and Crystal Palace is all that stands in Liverpool’s way between themselves and Champions League football next season, which many thought two months ago was way beyond the teams reach.
They will be going into that game with confidence at a season high, with an impressive run of form that has seen big wins over Arsenal and Manchester United amongst others. The latest win in their quest for the top four was the potential banana skin in Burnley at Turf Moor. After defeat at Anfield earlier in the season, Klopp and co where not taking a win for granted.
It was a relatively calm evening in Burnley, despite the 3,500 home fans in attendance, and Klopp will be over the moon with the lack of incidents and minimal stress that the game caused on his side.
Whilst the core starting XI performed their roles beautifully, the introduction and goal from Oxlade-Chamberlain will be a major positive moving into the final game and beyond. With injuries once again hampering his season, he will be happy to make an impact with a goal and will be hoping for more game time moving forwards.
The start proved slightly difficult for the Reds who found themselves under pressure early. With long balls expected from the outset, an onslaught of these came early towards Chris Wood. The New Zealander over the first 15-20 minutes won the battle against Phillips and Williams, and missed a key opportunity in the 15th minute. After the ball over the top of Williams, the forward struck his volley wide of Allisson’s goal from 6 yards out.
With this opportunity, Klopp’s side – like against Manchester United and West Brom – kicked themselves into action, as a number of chances started to materialise. Sadio Mané missed a wonderful chance when less than five yards out, then Salah was denied a couple of times by sensational last-minute tackles by Ben Mee. Roberto Firmino also had a chance to give the Reds the lead, but didn’t get the contact he was looking for as he skewed the ball wide.
Chances where coming but being missed and the nerves were starting to creep in, I imagine for some supporters. However, the consistent pressure would eventually tell just before the interval.
With Robertson having great success down the left side, the ball once again found its way to his feet as he took on Lowton. With no cover, the right back was unable to halt the Scotsman’s progress and the left back just had to pick out his target. He found the onrushing Firmino, who firmly thrashed the ball past debutant Norris in the Burnley goal. It was the Brazilian’s third consecutive game at Turf Moor with a goal and his third goal in three games for the Reds.
With the deadlock broken, Klopp’s side came out for the second half with less stress attached and this seemed to make a difference in their play. It was a relatively straight forward half of football, adding two further goals to their tally, which might make a significant difference come the final day of the season.
Firstly, the mighty Nat Phillips scored his first Liverpool goal, firmly heading into the roof of the net, after some wonderful work on the wing by Mané. This was then followed by substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the final ten minutes blasting home with a firm strike to give the score line a fairer reflection.
The home side did have one moment to get themselves back into the game, as James Tarkowski headed goalward, but as was the case all evening, Nat Philips was on the line to clear the danger and keep the clean sheet intact.
Another positive result with one game to go. The Reds will be going into Sunday’s game with one objective, knowing exactly what they have to do. With the support of 10,000 fans at Anfield, hopefully Klopp’s boys will get the job done and complete the incredible comeback.
Klopp made one change from the side that defeated West Brom at the Hawthorns on Sunday. Curtis Jones dropped to the bench, with Gini Wijnaldum returning to the starting line-up.
Here are my winners and losers from the game:
Nat PhillipsEmbed from Getty Images
What a season he has had and the question I think on everyone’s lips is, what won’t he head?
In all seriousness, he was a colossus at the back and – considering the challenge of dealing with the physical Chris Wood – he literally rose to the occasion. The first 20 minutes were difficult for him. He initially struggled with the greater physical threat that the New Zealand international posed, actually bullying him at some points but my goodness he turned it around.
He adapted his game from the 20-minute mark onwards; being selective with which balls he attacked and which he dropped back for. This reading of the game is a side we hadn’t seen before from the centre-half, but the way he went about his business from this moment onwards truly showed his footballing intelligence.
This has clearly stemmed from his growing confidence after his run in the team. This belief has also seen him take a greater leadership role at the back, especially now with the young Rhys Williams beside him, it is greatly needed. Seeing him barking orders out to Fabinho and Thiago in front of him is an image I didn’t think I would see at the start of this season.
With his intelligence giving him the upper hand in his battle with Wood, he took his talents to the other end of the field and was rewarded with his first Liverpool goal. After Sadio Mané stood up the ball perfectly to the back post, Phillips planted his header into the top corner to all but kill the contest.
His man of the match award was sealed in the final ten minutes when – with Burnley pushing for a goal to get them back into the game – Phillips cleared a James Tarkowski header off the line to deny the Burnley centre back and keep his clean sheet intact.
If Liverpool are to achieve a top four finish on Sunday, he will be one of the main reasons why this goal has been achieved. He has come out of nowhere to provide Klopp’s side with a stability that very few knew before the start of the 2020/21 campaign. He has achieved hero status for his accomplishments this season and he deserves a place in this team going into next year.
Thiago AlcântaraEmbed from Getty Images
Once again, an absolute pleasure to watch. After his stellar performance against West Brom at the weekend, he followed it up with a similarly commanding display. The way he transitions the team from defence into attack is practically seamless, and he is now starting to show how pivotal he will be moving forwards into next season.
I felt bad for Jack Cork and Ashley Westwood who had the mammoth task of shutting down the Spanish international and keeping him quiet, a task that they magnificently failed at. Instead, Thiago took control of the midfield early and never relinquished his grip.
For the majority of the game, he was on the front foot and in the position that I think he prefers to be when carrying out his duties. With Burnley camped into there own area, the former Bayern Munich midfielder had time and space to manipulate and piece together a move. The perfect example was the Oxlade-Chamberlain goal from the short corner.
Defensively, he was a rock and never let anyone escape his grasp. He helped Fabinho – who had a slightly below par performance – a lot during the evening when he lost possession. The Burnley forwards would swiftly lose the ball with Thiago tracking back and nicking possession away to then transition seamlessly into another attacking move.
With his control so set in midfield, Burnley decided to just bypass him and go long, targeting the young Rhys Williams. However, when the ball was knocked away, who was the first person to collect the ball and start the move in the opposite direction? Thiago Alcântara.
With Jordan Henderson fit for next season, a midfield trio of Fabinho, Henderson and Thiago looks a mouth-watering prospect. If Thiago can take this end of the season form into the next campaign, with all the key players returning, he is going to be the one to watch in the 2021/22.
Mohamed SalahEmbed from Getty Images
He isn’t in the losers’ section for having a bad game, I must stress. Instead, he will have seen this game as a major missed opportunity on a personal level.
He is currently tied for the lead in the race for golden boot with Harry Kane and – with the England captain firing a blank earlier in the evening – this was a major opportunity for the Egyptian to take the lead. Unfortunately for him and the Reds, he missed several chances throughout 90 minutes at Turf Moor.
He had three major chances in the first half and one in the second, but each time he fluffed his lines or was denied by a superb last-ditch tackle by Ben Mee. His best opportunity fell to him in the first period, when he was put clean through on goal and on his stronger left foot. However, the previously mentioned Burnley skipper Mee, got himself back and made a crunching tackle to deny him.
Despite his missed opportunities, the 28-year-old was brilliant, stretching that Burnley backline and running the full backs out of position so his teammates could exploit the free space. This leads me onto the point that some people see him as selfish. If this performance showed anything, it showed that he isn’t. Despite the golden boot being in sight, he consistently looked for others all evening.
It was a goalless game for Salah at Turf Moor but he still had a decent display. With three massive points needed on Sunday he will be eyeing up Champions League football for next season, whilst lifting aloft another shiny golden boot to cap another wonderful season will be on his agenda.
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