Thursday 20 July 2017

Can the man as Reds earn first 'ugly' victory

Liverpool 2 Burnley 1

Emre Can celebrates scoring Liverpool's winning goal. Photo: Reuters / Phil Noble
Emre Can celebrates scoring Liverpool's winning goal. Photo: Reuters / Phil Noble

Chris Bascombe

For Emre Can this was a bargaining chip as much as crucial winning goal.

The Liverpool midfielder has been struggling to justify the impasse in his contract talks with Anfield's hierarchy, so the 25-yard strike to see off Burnley was his most timely contribution of the season.

Liverpool had been toiling. It is rare they win when playing less than their best and they had gone behind after eight minutes, Burnley starting the game with the intensity that brought them victory in the reverse fixture in August.

Jurgen Klopp had also taken a risk in pursuit of a winner, substituting Philippe Coutinho - worryingly out of form since his return from injury - for teenager Ben Woodburn after an hour. It could easily have been another afternoon of research into Liverpool's flaws against less esteemed clubs, coupled with prolonged laments about a lack of strength in depth.

Read more: 'It is the first ugly game we won' - Jurgen Klopp delighted with gritty Liverpool win

Instead, within a minute of the change, Can picked up the ball from distance and struck hard and low to Tom Heaton's left. He celebrated with the fury of a player who surely knows his reputation and recent performances have not aligned. The player signed as the long-term replacement for Steven Gerrard was failing to fill the void left by the injured Jordan Henderson.

Ashley Barnes fires Burnley into an early lead. Photo: Reuters / Phil Noble
Ashley Barnes fires Burnley into an early lead. Photo: Reuters / Phil Noble

"Emre has an outstanding attitude, he always wants to play," said Klopp. "We performed good enough to win the game and the result is massive for us.

We had to fight, but it was not only luck we scored the equaliser.

"But it was clear we had to do a few things better in the second half, we were not at our absolute best but we took the win, and in the end I like it, because it's these kind of games which we didn't win until now.

"We are not used to winning when not playing well yet, so it feels a bit strange!"

Liverpool's Adam Lallana and Burnley's Stephen Ward collide in mid-air. Photo: Reuters / Phil Noble
Liverpool's Adam Lallana and Burnley's Stephen Ward collide in mid-air. Photo: Reuters / Phil Noble

The German midfielder's confidence swelled with his goal, enabling Liverpool to secure one of their scruffiest victories of the season, consolidating their top four place and shifting the scoreboard pressure on to those with games in hand.

Klopp called it his first ugly triumph of the campaign. Winning when his side is less than 100 per cent has certainly been elusive during his reign.

"Until now, usually when not at our best we lost," said Klopp.

"You cannot plan an ugly game. From an intensity side, it was nice to watch but there was not too much football. If we want to stay where we are, then you need to win football games and it is really good that we could do it even like this. In the average games and the bad games you need a challenge or two."

Given their ridiculous recent erratic results this was a game many expected Liverpool to lose - the one after they have just defeated Arsenal ahead of a trip to Manchester City.

Burnley defender Stephen Ward can’t prevent Georginio Wijnaldum from netting Liverpool’s opening goal. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images
Burnley defender Stephen Ward can’t prevent Georginio Wijnaldum from netting Liverpool’s opening goal. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images

In fact, aside from an aberration against Swansea, they have not suffered too much against the bottom half clubs at Anfield, or anyone else for that matter. It is on their travels the players have been a menace to the club's top four aspirations.

Yet the game began in a manner to keep Kop fatalism trending, Burnley troubling Liverpool with a combination of physicality, organisation and pace.

From the early stages Andre Gray and Ashley Barnes were raising more questions about the stoicism of Liverpool's defence, which buckled under the first challenges.

When the opening goal came, it was entirely in keeping with the run of play.

Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp and James Milner celebrate after the game. Photo: Reuters / Phil Noble
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp and James Milner celebrate after the game. Photo: Reuters / Phil Noble

Read more: Coutinho a long way from his best: Five things we learned from Liverpool's win over Burnley

A couple of early balls in the penalty area had already put The Kop on edge before Matthew Lowton's cross from the right dissected Liverpool's back four and Barnes slid in, unmarked, to poke beyond Simon Mignolet.

Liverpool were struggling to combine passes, Roberto Firmino's absence telling as Divock Origi tried to get into the game, and Coutinho was short of his touch.

Joey Barton was enjoying himself in midfield and the frustration was audibly growing before half-time when momentum shifted Liverpool's way.

Origi found space on the left and his cross forced a slip from Ben Mee, allowing Georginio Wijnaldum to pounce and side-foot the equaliser.

There was no siege towards Heaton's goal - when Can scored it was only the second shot on target by the home side - but Burnley's belief subsided and they resorted to a more direct style in search of an equaliser.

This time Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan stood firm, although Lowton missed a chance in injury time.

Sean Dyche felt his team deserved more. He has built a tough side, ably equipped to preserve their mid-table position, and on this evidence that elusive away win won't be far off.

"It is a broken record," said Dyche, bemoaning a 12th away defeat - more than any in the Premier League.

"It was a good performance and a solid performance. I thought we deserved something. We were resolute in our defending with good organisation, a good tactical plan, a sublime first goal and two or three other chances.

"We ruffled their feathers and deliberately made it awkward for them. Today is a nearly but we have had too many nearly stories on the road. We need to make it happen but if we play like that, we will make it happen."

There was more brawn than beauty on display for both sides but even Klopp will admit - on days like this - it's the result rather than the style that matters. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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