Rust never sleeps but it was surely bound to take the night off at Anfield last Thursday and give Liverpool FC a badly needed chance to polish their buttons again.
When Southampton beat them on January 4, it was the third league game in a row they'd failed to win. The manager described their dip in form then as "a rather rusty moment". Their 0-0 with Manchester United last Sunday was their fourth.
So on Thursday, at the fifth time of asking, and against a team lying 17th in the table, they were bound to stop the rot and buy some breathing space with a win and three points. They hadn't been beaten at home in the Premier League since April 2017, a run of 68 games. And Burnley hadn't won at Anfield in 46 years. Nah. Rust was one thing, but even a stuttering engine would be sufficient for this assignment.
Jürgen Klopp even gave it a kickstart beforehand by replacing a few worn-looking parts with a few retreads from the bench: Salah (right) and Firmino out, Origi and Oxlade-Chamberlain in. Shaqiri was also given another run. The manager clearly felt he had to do something about his malfunctioning forward unit and, finally, he'd bitten the bullet. It was a shake-up of sorts, albeit reluctantly done and accompanied by a pre-match denial that the first-choice pair had been dropped.
Had Salah and Firmino been left out, asked the chap from Sky Sports, for fitness reasons or because the goals had dried up? "Neither nor," came the dubious reply. "It's a reaction to the quality in the squad which we have to use, it's clear from now on we play every three days pretty much, and that's why we have to make changes. That's the only reason." Right.
Naturally enough, the manager was trying to protect his stars and dampen down any suggestions of panic in the camp.
The selection had a makeshift look about it, again, as has just about every selection since Virgil van Dijk went down with a busted knee against Everton in October. Their centre-back pairing of Fabinho and Matip was their 14th permutation in this position since the season began.
Even still, the champions looked to have more than enough to dispense with one of the division's perennial makeweights. Burnley pulled all or most of their players behind the ball and duly sat in for the siege. Liverpool lorded possession. At one stage late in the first half, they were running at 90 per cent ownership of the ball. But they were finding no way through the congealed routes to goal, either on the floor or in the air. Their crossing was tame and predictable. Burnley players were queuing up to head clear the incoming deliveries. And they were, likewise, queuing up to block shots and interrupt passes on the deck. Liverpool could not open the can with an incisive thrust; they were forced into multiple shots from outside the box.
Then came the chance, two minutes before half-time. Origi was released through on goal with a world of time and space. It wasn't a through ball that had done it, but a dreadful blunder by Burnley's otherwise resolute centre-half Ben Mee. It was a gift, handed to the Belgian striker on a platter. One-on-one with the goalkeeper, he hit the crossbar and a curtain of rain fell from the underside. It was the moment when a goal would have brought a flood of relief for the home side. Instead their nerves were tightened another notch on the ratchet.
Two minutes later, Mané was fouled on the edge of the box: prime territory for a strike from Trent Alexander-Arnold. But they botched that, too; the full-back blazed high and wide, offering further evidence of his own personal collapse in form.
Small wonder then that Klopp hit boiling point at the break. He was half-way down the tunnel when a rumpus on the pitch stopped him in his tracks. Players from both sides were throwing shapes after Fabinho had a tangle with Ashley Barnes. There was nothing in it but Barnes went down and his teammates went up in arms. The referee flashed a yellow at Fabinho. Klopp was back on the sideline looking at the flare-up. Sean Dyche strode past him, made a remark and kept going, knowing he'd left a hand grenade behind him. Klopp duly exploded, following the Burnley manager down the tunnel and firing a few volleys of verbals at him. Dyche stopped to fire a few back and headed for the dressing room.
There was no doubting which of them was the happier gaffer at this stage. Dyche knew he had a rattled manager and a rattled team in the other dressing room. Even so, Burnley were hanging on by their fingernails for a point and they had another 45 minutes of hanging on to do. It was inconceivable that they would pose any threat at the other end.
With 20 minutes still to play, their full-back Matt Lowton was happy just to kick the ball downfield into a deserted Liverpool half. They had not one player up there to make even a token effort at holding up play. They'd conceded two-thirds of the field and chose to make their stand on the edge of their own box.
It's a high-risk strategy but usually has the effect of slowing down opposition attacks. If opponents are allowed stroll upfield with the ball, it takes the pace and frequently the width out of their attacks. Liverpool continued probing and prying for channels down the right and left flanks of the penalty area but always there was a Burnley player waiting to block, tackle, intercept. Their crosses were hopeful dinks rather than whipped deliveries from out wide. Again they were headed clear with repetitive ease.
Salah and Firmino were sprung before the hour mark. Firmino missed their best chance of the half, horribly miscuing his shot and, likewise, providing further evidence of his collapse in confidence, too.
Then Burnley do the unthinkable and score a goal of their own with eight minutes remaining. They win at Anfield for the first time since 1974.
What was hitherto a dip in form for the champions has become a slump, veering towards a crisis. Today they face Manchester United in the Cup at Old Trafford. In the league they have a nasty run of fixtures looming, with Tottenham first up on Thursday.
They have played 19 games with 19 still to play: a bit early perhaps for the doom and gloom that is already starting to descend on the red half of Liverpool. The team does not have the answers at the moment; the manager is looking deflated and sounding perplexed. It seems he doesn't currently have the answers either, albeit he knows a great deal more about the problems than he is willing to admit. Klopp has mentioned "decision-making", confidence, the final ball and "the decisive 10 per cent (that) is missing". He is publicly blaming himself and accepting responsibility, the better, presumably, to protect his players from criticism.
On Friday, one of them stepped forward, the faithful veteran James Milner. "No good comes from feeling sorry for ourselves and excuses won't help," he tweeted to his 1.4 million followers. "It's on us, all of us, to fight our way back. We're at our strongest when we are one force - players & supporters, TOGETHER."
The capital letters on that final word indicated that the message was a plea for unity from inside the camp to the legions of supporters outside it. The last thing they need now is the natives getting restless. Right now, they sense the crown is starting to slip. They should know that there is plenty of time to set it right again. The top end of the Premier League has been in a state of flux for months now. There promises to be plenty more churn in the weeks to come. Every contender is fallible. But no one thought that the champions could look so fallible so suddenly and so fast.
"We are not blind to our problems," said Klopp after the Southampton defeat. As ever, it is the solution that is hard to find. If rust never sleeps, the manager is probably spending his nights wide awake beside it.
Sunday Indo Sport