Wednesday 19 December 2018

Firmino's first touch turns tide for Liverpool

Burnley 1 Liverpool 3

Roberto Firmino (hidden) celebrates with team mates after scoring Liverpool’s second goal. Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Roberto Firmino (hidden) celebrates with team mates after scoring Liverpool’s second goal. Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Jim White

Liverpool march on, still unbeaten, still breathing down Manchester City's expensive collars. And they keep creating records as they go.

Victory at Burnley meant they have produced 12 wins and three draws, their best return from the first 15 games in a top-flight season. And all while giving the reserves a run-out.

Sadio Mane and Andy Robertson had both been injured in the Merseyside derby and were absent. With Jurgen Klopp deciding to rest Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, and leading his line with Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge, the question was whether Sean Dyche should have beendisappointed by the lack of respect shown by a largely second-string Liverpool.

Whatever the personnel, Dyche's tactics were straightforward: get in there.

They love a slide tackle at Turf Moor. Ashley Westwood's vigorous intervention to dispossess Origi almost earned a standing ovation. Burnley were going in strongly all over the pitch.

Joe Gomez became an early victim of their rigour when he was taken off on a stretcher after a tangle with Ben Mee. Klopp was getting exercised by the Burnley approach, bending the ear of fourth official Mike Dean throughout the first half.

Phillip Bardsley of Burnley and Mohamed Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool in action. Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images
Phillip Bardsley of Burnley and Mohamed Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool in action. Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Though Phil Bardsley could hardly be accused of excess when the referee awarded a free-kick after Sturridge went down as if he had taken a wrong turning into sniper alley.

Up front there was not much from Liverpool: Alberto Moreno fired over after being set up by James Milner and Virgil van Dijk headed into Joe Hart's midriff from a corner. Sturridge and Origi, meanwhile, were hardly storming their audition.

But the point about Klopp's Liverpool is they are have a lot more than a bit of attacking dash. This is a side that had conceded just five goals in 14 previous league games. Thanks to the totemic Van Dijk controlling things in the centre of their back line, they were giving little to their hosts.

There was a telling moment early on when Ashley Barnes caught Van Dijk napping in possession and whipped the ball off his toes. The Burnley striker had barely taken a couple of paces goalwards before he found himself completely out-paced as the flying Dutchman overtook him to reclaim the ball.

Virgil van Dijk of Liverpool battles for possession with Sam Vokes of Burnley. Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Virgil van Dijk of Liverpool battles for possession with Sam Vokes of Burnley. Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

With such pace protecting the Liverpool area, Burnley's best chances were a 30-yard piledriver from Bardsley that swished past Alisson's post and a smart side-foot finish by Barnes from Robbie Brady's free-kick. Before he had even started celebrating, however, the assistant had his flag raised.

There was a reason he was alone in the box: this Liverpool team know how to construct an offside trap. As the second half began, Liverpool fans were wondering when the cavalry might arrive. But there was no sign of immediate change as both sides tested their range. Sturridge forced a fine save from Hart with a sharp shot from the edge of the area, Barnes then had a shot from Chris Wood's deft knock down but Allison smothered easily. Then Hart was obliged to divert a fine Naby Keita drive onto the post.

It seemed only a matter of time before Liverpool's clever one-twos would gain ascendancy over Burnley's prosaic approach. But then in an almighty scramble from a corner, Alisson, treating the ball as if it were smeared in butter, failed to hold James Tarkowski's header. He then tried to flick the ball away from Barnes but only succeeded in skewing it to Jack Cork, who hit it home.

It was now a matter of keeping Liverpool out. The rearguard lasted all of eight minutes before Milner, set up by a clever reverse pass from Origi, hit a shot from the edge of the area into the corner of Hart's net.

At this point Klopp realised if the jugular were to be sought, he needed expertise. He sent on Salah and Firmino, tasked with finding the winner that would keep his side on City's heels.

An extra zest was injected into every Liverpool move and the inevitable came just four minutes after the pair's introduction when Trent Alexander-Arnold drifted a free-kick behind the Burnley line, Van Dijk scooped the ball back to Firmino, who, with his first touch, side-footed into the net.

When Xherdan Shaqiri added a third in injury time, it was only to put a proper gloss on the scoreline. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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