If ever there was a game where the stats did not tell the full story, this was it. A quick glance at the stats sheet for the game between Burnley and Liverpool shows that Liverpool had over 80 per cent of possession, registered 26 shots (Burnley had 3), and won a staggering 12 corners to their opponent’s one. You could easily be forgiven for thinking that Liverpool won the match easily. Instead, they lost 2-0, with the hosts going ahead early and managing to keep their opponents at bay through some excellent defensive work.
The game was barely ninety seconds old when Burnley took the lead, with an aimless pass from Nathaniel Clyne intercepted by Andre Gray. The ball was played to the edge of the area, where Sam Vokes turned away from Dejan Lovren and blasted the ball past Simon Mignolet into the back of the net. The home fans were in complete ecstasy; Liverpool fans everywhere were in shock. Eventually the Liverpool defence was able to get past Burnley’s forwards, and they had soon taken control of the tempo. They were dominating possession, and it seemed as if they would eventually break Burnley down.
They couldn’t. Liverpool’s attack was a mess, the kind of mess which comes about when there are no boundaries. Sometimes the Reds had no centre forward, sometimes they had three, and it seemed as if Jurgen Klopp had instructed all of his forwards to roam free. Philippe Coutinho was everywhere and nowhere at the same time, moving around in Liverpool’s front third like a bee buzzes from flower to flower, hitting one sideways pass after another. James Milner, picked to start at left back over Alberto Moreno, permanently parked himself on the left wing. He had almost no defensive work to do, but he was fairly useless in attack when he received the ball.
Daniel Sturridge had come in for the game, replacing an injured Sadio Mane on the right wing. At least, that was where he was meant to play. Sturridge is always interesting to watch when he is picked as a winger, and by the end of the first half he was essentially operating as Liverpool’s main striker. Georginio Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana were given licence to push into attack from midfield, but neither had a significant impact on the match.
Then there was Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian, who was named at centre forward by Klopp, was nowhere to be seen. With as many as three of his teammates pushing into his position he drifted to the outer, and he barely touched the ball in the first half. In the second, although he was still technically playing as a striker, he started bobbing up deep in midfield. Liverpool’s attack was a picture of chaos throughout, especially when compared to Burnley’s pacey counter-attack.
Jump for joy: Andre Gray celebrates scoring Burnley’s second goal.
Burnley scored again just before the break, with new signing Steven Defour feeding Gray on the counter. The Belgian ran halfway up the field as Gray went with him, the star striker struggling to keep himself onside. Eventually he managed to get it right, and he received the ball on the edge of the area. He took one touch to get past Jordan Henderson, and his second touch brought him past Ragnar Klavan. Lovren was looking to close him down, but the shot came too quickly. It was an excellent strike, and Mignolet couldn’t get a glove to it as the ball found its way into the bottom corner.
Up to this point the Reds had been fixated on trying to get through Burnley’s defence, but they completely ignored the fact that the lethargic tempo with which they conducted their attack was the reason for their inability to do so. As the game went on the crosses kept coming in from Milner on the left, but Coutinho gave up on playing through balls in an attempt to beat Michael Keane and Ben Mee. He started shooting every time he found himself in a somewhat dangerous position, missing the target with almost every attempt. His teammates took up his lead, and soon Liverpool were taking shots from thirty yards out whenever they could not break through Burnley’s solid structure. The result was inevitable, and by the end it was quite clear who played the better game. Liverpool entered the Turf Moor brimming with confidence after a stunning performance against Arsenal. They left with their tail between their legs after a lethargic attacking effort, leaving Jurgen Klopp with a number of unanswered questions.
Burnley – Turf Moor
Burnley 2 (Vokes 2, Gray 37)
Referee: Lee Mason
Burnley (4-4-2): Heaton – Lowton, Keane, Mee, Ward; Boyd, Marney, Defour (Gudmundsson 56), Arfield; Gray (O’Neill 90+3), Vokes (Jutkiewicz 82).
Liverpool (4-3-3): Mignolet – Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Milner (Moreno 77); Lallana (Grujic 78), Henderson, Wijnaldum; Sturridge (Origi 65), Firmino, Coutinho.
1. Andre Gray (Burnley)
Gray started the game brilliantly, cutting out an errant pass from Clyne and setting up the first goal of the game after less than two minutes. He continued to threaten throughout, causing massive problems for both Lovren and Klavan as he looked to get in behind the Liverpool defence. He showed plenty of skill and composure, and looks set for a big season.
2. Dean Marney (Burnley)
Marney formed a solid partnership with Steven Defour in the centre of midfield, doing plenty of defensive work and making life difficult for Liverpool with his balls in behind the defence. He worked harder than anyone else on the field, and he was still giving his all when the final whistle blew.
3. Dejan Lovren (Liverpool)
Lovren was a rare plus in an otherwise poor performance for Liverpool, making some excellent stops to deny Gray and holding Liverpool’s defence together as Burnley looked to hit them on the break. He looked composed throughout, and he can hold his head high after a strong performance.
4. Michael Keane (Burnley)
Keane was a rock at the centre of Burnley’s defence, making interception after interception as Liverpool looked to break through. His positioning was first-rate, and he ensured that the Reds could not get past him. He had less to do in the second half as Liverpool took more shots, but he didn’t make a mistake and will take great confidence from his performance.
5. Matthew Lowton (Burnley)
Lowton was exposed to most of Liverpool’s attack, and his work shutting down Milner was excellent. He didn’t give Liverpool any free space, and he made some crucial blocks to deny them as they looked to score. He showed great composure under pressure, and his efforts will go a long way as he looks to keep his place in the team safe from Tendayi Darikwa.