Monday 19 November 2018

Liverpool defence goes on the attack to sink Clarets

Burnley 1 Liverpool 2

Dejan Lovren and Emre Can lead the celebrations. Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images
Dejan Lovren and Emre Can lead the celebrations. Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Chris Bascombe

These are heady days to be a Liverpool centre-half. Much maligned, terrorised on social media, and effectively written off as surplus to requirements now Virgil van Dijk is the most expensive Christmas gift in football history, you might have expected Ragnar Klavan and Dejan Lovren to prepare for the physical challenge of Burnley in sour, uncertain mood.

Alongside Joel Matip, they can be under no illusions that in the long term, they are competing to partner the £75 million (€84m) man.

Liverpool's Estonian defender Ragnar Klavan (C) stoops to head home their second goal. Photo: Getty Images
Liverpool's Estonian defender Ragnar Klavan (C) stoops to head home their second goal. Photo: Getty Images

Instead, the pair combined to eke out a 94th-minute winner, prompting their manager to proclaim any doubts about their character were exclusively external.

The dent in Liverpool's club accounts would suggest otherwise.

Nevertheless, Klavan wrote a piece of history by becoming the first Estonian to score a Premier League goal. Lovren took all the credit for the assist, redirecting Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's floaty free-kick goal-wards.

This after Johann Gudmundsson had struck an 88th-minute equaliser to cancel out a Sadio Mane stunner. It was a suitably scruffy finish to a shabby game, but no less satisfying for the visitors.

Burnley's Jack Cork in action with Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold. Photo: Reuters/Phil Noble
Burnley's Jack Cork in action with Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold. Photo: Reuters/Phil Noble

The irony of two Liverpool defenders combining for the decisive moment will not be lost. It was one of Lovren's finest games of the season. Aside from the match-winning assist, he had admirably resisted the force of Ashley Barnes and Sam Vokes.

"I was never in doubt about the character of my boys. I never thought we had a defence problem or thought we need an extra player, though Virgil will help us a lot," said manager Jurgen Klopp.

Klopp had earlier compared a trip to Turf Moor to a war. For a while, he must have felt like a general without any ammunition as Philippe Coutinho and Mohamed Salah were absent.

Finale

The exciting finale was not in keeping with a broadly low-quality game, but Liverpool have shown a different face in this festive period. There was less of their attacking zest, but more fortitude than recently shown in similarly arduous circumstances.

Liverpool's Dejan Lovren in action. Photo: Reuters/Jason Cairnduff
Liverpool's Dejan Lovren in action. Photo: Reuters/Jason Cairnduff

There will be sympathy for the hosts, largely due to the cruel circumstances of defeat. Sean Dyche must have thought there was plenty going for his side, not least a weakened opponent and terrible conditions. But while Klopp made seven changes, Dyche retained most of those who played 48 hours earlier. They banished fatigue. That made Burnley's efforts commendable.

"I thought we had done enough to earn another point. I am frustrated with a soft goal right at the end but impressed with the mentality," said the Burnley manager.

Whatever the outcome, Dyche and Klopp knew there would be an obsession with Liverpool's main absentees, Salah, suffering with a thigh strain, and Coutinho, out with a groin problem. In normal circumstances, omitting a player with a slight injury less than 48 hours since his previous game would not be an issue.

In Coutinho's case, nothing is so straightforward - particularly as his and Barcelona's sponsors seem able to announce his arrival without the courtesy of an acknowledgement of their error. "I could not be less interested," was Klopp's sparky response to Nike's advertising.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp celebrates after the final whistle. Photo credit: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp celebrates after the final whistle. Photo credit: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

There was nothing to indicate the unravelling of a grand conspiracy leading Coutinho to the Nou Camp this month but inevitably, the Liverpool duo were missed. It felt like a game contaminated by daft timing and selection concessions.

Klopp could at least call on Adam Lallana for his first league start of the season - the England midfielder was encouragingly better as the game progressed - but this was an unfamiliar Liverpool in personnel and style.

Mane was striving for form, often taking the easiest passing option where once he would have sped at terrified defenders, but he rediscovered confidence with a brilliant strike on 61 minutes. He controlled Trent Alexander-Arnold's right-wing cross, before turning and finding the top corner.

"It is obvious. Sadio is unbelievably important for us. He is strong, quick, so many things," said Klopp. "He scores a goal like this and it is, like, wow."

Intriguingly, Klopp confirmed Mane and Salah would be permitted to travel to Africa on Thursday for the African Player of the Year awards, returning hours before the Merseyside derby. Expect more selection questions this week.

Until Mane's strike, the game was dreadful, the ball bobbling from one toe to the other, interrupted by the occasional long diagonal from one centre-back for his opposite number to fight over.The game opened up as Burnley chased it, sending on Vokes and going more direct. Liverpool should have punished on the counter-attack but succumbed when Charlie Taylor's cross was flicked on by Vokes and Gudmundsson was free at the back post.

Instead of another tale of Liverpool alarmingly dropping points, they responded. Centre-backs excelling and Liverpool winning with a set-piece at Burnley? These really are encouragingly changing times for Klopp. ( ©Daily Telegraph, London)

 

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