Liverpool close gap on top four rivals with 2-1 victory over Burnley thanks to wonderful Emre Can goal

The performance hardly sends shockwaves through the Premier League but the result carries significance, if only for proving that Liverpool can weather a storm and win when they don’t play well.

They have not come from behind to win a game since Stoke were put away in late December and as the game drifted to the interval, with Jürgen Klopp’s side yet to register a shot on target, you wondered where a result was coming from. Emre Can, as things transpired, whose winner just beyond the hour was as timely as they come, given that his performance had been so poor by then. And a defence which for once did not yield in the teeth of an aerial attack.

It was always going to be a more acid test of Liverpool’s top four aspirations than last week’s 90 minutes against a tepid Arsenal too effete to press something special out of them. The team had not won consecutive matches since the heady heights of the New Year’s Eve win over Manchester City and though Burnley’s track record was even less encouraging – they’d not won in this stadium since 1975 – the question was whether a direct and physical challenge, offering minimal time and space, could be navigated.

The immediate answer was, emphatically ‘No.’ The Burnley strategy, a proletarian physical effort in midfield and a rapid outball towards the rapier pace of Andre Gray and Ashley Barnes, was not sophisticated but it was enough to put Liverpool behind and leave them struggling for a way back into the match.

The goal came early –a cross from Matthew Lowton’s right outstep eight minutes in, which left Nathaniel Clyne asleep to the threat of Barnes racing forward to meet it unhindered ten yards out. By then, the wide ball behind the home defence had already twice looked a threat. The advanced positions left back James Milner was taking up looked like a risk. 

What Liverpool offered in response to the opener was frippery in the first half; flim-flam. The muscularity of George Boyd and Jeff Hendrick was too much for them.  In the process, we saw that there is a different Emre Can on display when he is being harassed and not given the run of Anfield that Arsène Wenger’s midfielders allowed him a week ago.  For all their possession – 70 per cent in the first half – Liverpool could not make an impression.

The solitary first half threat to Burnley came from Sadio Mane, with his strength, pace and his capacity for the unexpected racing into space on the right flank. But his final ball was indifferent and often beaten away. When it reached the six-yard box Divock Origi had not intuited the fact. The Belgian did little to prove himself here.

Philippe Coutinho was muscled into anonymity, too. Adam Lallana buzzed and worked to little material effect, save for a spin which drew a foul from – and booking for – Ben Mee. The requisite precision was, frankly, missing, and it was against all expectations that Klopp’s side summoned an equaliser with the last strike of the first half.  Mee slipped as Georginio Wijnaldum mishit an Origi cross, allowing the Dutchman to reclaim the ball, tee up a shot and score.

The goal seemed to puncture Burnley’s belief. The search for Gray and Barnes evaporated after the break, as Dyche’s players sought to hold what they had. Even that vanished a minute past the hour when Can latched onto an Origi ball into his path and crashed the moving ball beyond the dive of Tom Heaton into the bottom right hand corner.

The need for something different had already been revealed by Klopp at that stage, when he removed Coutinho for 17-year-old Ben Woodburn, though the teenager was unable to make a significant impact.

Klopp’s removal of Origi for Lucas Leiva illustrated a need to shore up and though Liverpool might have sealed the match had Mane not wasted a ball clipped over the Burnley defence for him, it was Dyche’s side who had the last shot in anger. Ragnar Kalavan did just enough to prevent Matthew Lowton connecting in the six yard box. Klopp looked the most relieved man in Anfield.

Teams…

Liverpool (4-3-3) Mignolet; Milner, Matip, Klavan, Clyne; Lallana, Wijnaldum, Can; Coutinho (Woodburn 61), Origi (Lucas 79), Mane. Substitutes: Karius, Gomez, Moreno, Wilson, Alexander-Arnold

Burnley (4-4-2) Heaton;  Lowton, Keane, Mee, Ward; Boyd (Brady 72), Barton, Hendrick, Arfield (Agyei 89); Gray (Vokes 80), Barnes. Substitutes: Robinson, Westwood, Tarkowski, Darikwa,

Referee: C. Powson (South Yorkshire)

Star man: Mane

Match rating: 6/10

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