Ah yes, that feeling’s back.
Following the elation Liverpool provided its fans at Anfield against a top-four rival in Arsenal, the mood should be all smiles and utter confidence. So why the sense of trepidation, the caution, and the preparation for disappointment at home to a newly promoted side?
Well, it’s probably to do with the fact that Liverpool managed to lose to a Swansea team that hadn’t won a game since Gangnam Style was in fashion, a Hull City side that hadn’t scored since 1987, and a Leicester team that’d just sacked the man who brought them a Premier League title only months prior.
So, the trepidation’s fair enough then. The only thing Liverpool really do have in their favour is that they won’t be up against a team with a new manager – something which seems to be an Achilles heel in recent times. With the successes of Silva, Clement and Shakespeare, Burnley would be justified to sack Sean Dyche, hire someone out of the blue on a one game contract, and bring Dyche back in once they’ve nabbed the three points from Anfield.
If they do, they’ll have done the double against Jürgen’s Reds; which only reinforces that feeling of cautiousness in this consistently inconsistent season. On the flipside, Burnley haven’t won a game since they beat Leicester City on the 1st February, and have the worst away record in the Premier League. If Liverpool are to keep that trend up, here are the battles they’ll have to win.
Joel Matip vs. Andre Gray
Burnley had never scored a Premier League goal against Liverpool.
That was, until Andre Gray wreaked havoc on a hapless Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan, who were well and truly beaten on Matchday #2 – what seems like an eternity ago.
If Jürgen’s plea for consistency is to be heeded, they’ll not only have to stop counter attacks before they reach Simon Mignolet’s box; but Joel Matip will have to command a stable, solid defence resolved of their tendency to panic in a two vs. two situation. They’ll also have to stop Burnley from scoring early – as Sam Vokes did in the reverse fixture in the 2nd minute at Turf Moor.
Andre Gray will most definitely be Burnley’s attacking threat – he’s their leading goalscorer with eight goals, two of which came against Swansea last weekend in the gripping 3-2 loss at the Liberty Stadium. Gray is lethal when afforded space on the counter-attack, and Joel Matip needs to be the one who prevents him from getting that space.
Roberto Firmino vs. Michael Keane
The Brazilian has fallen into a bit of a rut recently; popping up in the box at his usual rate but not converting – or creating – as many chances as he did while Liverpool were on their majestic surge up the table. Those two things may be directly linked with each other, and he knows he’s going to have to be at his best to get past Burnley’s wall at centre back in Michael Keane.
He and partner Ben Mee have both been impressive at points during the season; Burnley’s lack of firepower balanced out by their resoluteness in defence, and Firmino will be hoping his flair and movement inside the box is enough to pop up and snatch a much-needed goal against a team on the lower end of the table.
He was masterful at times against Arsenal – back to his thrilling best – but Firmino does love to thrive against the big teams when he’s allowed space. It won’t be an easy task; considering the box will be jam-packed full of bodies and one of those will be the 6”2 centre half, but if Firmino does find the back of the net again, Liverpool should have enough in them to secure the three points.
Emre Can vs. Joey Barton
Seemingly embroiled in controversy on a fortnightly basis, Joey Barton continues to defy his off-pitch antics and put in excellent performances in the middle of the park for Burnley. He was their player of the season last season as they were promoted from the Championship, and re-joined Dyche’s side after a falling out at Scottish side Rangers. Taking the place of Steven Defour – whose season has curtailed since the impressive debut against Liverpool at Turf Moor – Barton will be the staple in the middle of the park, likely partnering Ashley Westwood as Burnley look to defend deep and break on the counter attack.
With Jordan Henderson injured, Emre Can stepped into the #6 role against Arsenal and did an exceptional job. It’s a position that the young German is seemingly built for; given his strength in the tackle and positional sense; but his consistency has let him down this season. Against Burnley, he can’t afford to have one of his bad days at the office, or Barton will be on him like a rash. Whatever criticism he cops for his constant antics, Barton is tenacious, uncompromising, and quick when he sees space through midfield.
The German cannot afford to leave gaps, else Barton will find Gray and Gray will find the back of the net. He’ll also be tasked with helping Liverpool force their way through a Claret brick wall: but the real key is shielding that back four from counter-attacks, and ensuring Burnley aren’t the first newly-promoted team to do the double against Liverpool since Blackpool in 2010/11.