Friday 19 January 2018

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

Liverpool's Ben Woodburn comes on as a substitute to replace Philippe Coutinho
Liverpool's Ben Woodburn comes on as a substitute to replace Philippe Coutinho

Luke Brown

Emre Can scored in the second-half to down Burnley as Liverpool strengthened their bid for a top-four finish.

But they were far from their best and went a goal down when Ashley Barnes turned home Matthew Lowton's pass.

Liverpool equalised on the stroke of half-time when Georginio Wijnaldum poked in, before Can won the game with his fourth goal of the season.

Here are five things we learned from Liverpool's narrow win...

Three points paper over the cracks

Liverpool eventually emerged with all three points against Burnley to keep their top-four charge on track, but this win cannot disguise an ultimately poor performance which will have left Jurgen Klopp scratching his head.

His team were particularly poor in the first-half, with Emre Can an insufficient replacement for Jordan Henderson in the middle of the pitch and the team struggling desperately to find any width.

Georginio Wijnaldum – who has been on a good run of form in recent weeks – struck the equalising goal before Can achieved some redemption by scoring the winner, but once again Liverpool flattered to deceive against a team they would have expected to beat comfortably.

Coutinho is still a long way from his best

It’s difficult to remember Coutinho having too many poorer performances in a Liverpool shirt. Usually so assured in possession, the Brazilian had just 41 touches of the ball against Burnley before being hauled off by Klopp in favour of the teenager Ben Woodburn. He failed to take a single shot, embark on a single dribble, or make a single key pass.

Clearly, the 24-year-old is still feeling the effects of the ankle injury that ruled him out over the Christmas period. He hasn’t been the same since: completing 90 minutes twice and scoring just the one goal in his past 10 appearances.

Klopp deserves credit for having the sheer bravery to take off his most talented player for an untested 17-year-old, when he identified just how badly Coutinho was struggling. But did the club rush Coutinho back into the first-team too soon after his injury? And is the player likely to return to anything approaching his best form before the end of the season?

Liverpool's thin squad could yet cost them

As has been well documented this season, Liverpool have a habit of raising their game against the best sides in the Premier League, and in their wins against Tottenham and Manchester City in particular, they played with the strut of possible title winners.

But against the so called lesser teams, they have struggled. Key to this is their lack of strength in depth, which was made glaringly evident by their substitute’s bench against Burnley.

Karius, Gomez, Moreno, Lucas, Woodburn, Wilson, Alexander-Arnold: hardly a bench to inspire fear in the opposition. Liverpool have the thinnest squad of all of the top-six teams, which is something Klopp urgently needs to address in the summer.

Burnley should be aiming for a top-half finish

In the end, Liverpool’s quality saw them recover from conceding an early goal to Ashley Barnes, and so Burnley’s wait to record the league double over Liverpool ticks into the 88th year.

But Burnley supporters still have much to smile about. Their club, widely expected to be involved in a relegation battle at the start of the season, are sitting pretty above the likes of Bournemouth, Crystal Palace and Premier League champions Leicester City, and they are playing some genuinely good football to boot.

They sit just two points behind 10th-place Southampton, and Sean Dyche should now be targeting a top-half finish. Key to achieving this aim will be rectifying the club's dismal away form. Because while Turf Moor has been a fortress this season, with Burnley boasting the sixth-best home record in the league, they have struggled on the road and are still awaiting their first away win of the season.

Mignolet's improved form deserves credit

On an afternoon when many of Liverpool’s players ultimately disappointed, Simon Mignolet’s performance deserves credit.

The Belgian lost his place to summer signing Loris Karius earlier in the season and the two have been tousling for the number one shirt ever since.

This display will have done nothing to harm Mignolet’s chances of proving to Klopp that he is good enough to be his permanent first-choice keeper. He confidently dealt with the large number of long balls Burnley pelted into his box, with the only blot on his copybook being his occasionally poor distribution.

Independent News Service

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