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An almighty thrashing at the Etihad Stadium was followed by a peculiar display at Anfield by Liverpool against Sevilla, where the Reds dominated for large parts of the game, only for sloppiness to cost them two points in the UEFA Champions League. On Saturday, it is back to Premier League action at Anfield as Liverpool welcome Sean Dyche’s Burnley.
Burnley were very lucky to win 1-0 against Crystal Palace last weekend, as the Eagles missed loads of chances in a game that they should have put to bed. Burnley are unbeaten away from home this season, following up their stunning opening day win at Stamford Bridge with a late equalizer at Wembley to take a point against Tottenham Hotspur.
But there must be no excuses for the Reds on Saturday. The optimism leading up to the international break has been wiped out by two shambolic defensive displays and three points must be the only thing on the agenda on Saturday.
Sadio Mane will serve the first of his three-game ban for the red card he picked up against City, and that should mean a first Premier League start of the season for Philippe Coutinho, who was welcomed back to the fold by Anfield on Wednesday.
The defence is a concern, but the Reds’ attack should be confident of putting Burnley to the sword.
Here are the key individual battles that will decide the game.
ROBERTO FIRMINO v JAMES TARKOWSKI
Tarkowski had a sensational game against Palace, with several last-ditch interventions ensuring that the Clarets’ lead was not under any threat. But he will face a different threat to the one Christian Benteke posed last week.
Roberto Firmino had a sensational first half against Sevilla, which was blighted by him hitting the post from 12 yards out. But Firmino will be up for redemption on Saturday.
Tarkowski and his partner Ben Mee are strong in the air, but that is not how Liverpool will play. Firmino will move all over the pitch, and that is a challenge that should be a mammoth one for Tarkowski. With the running of Mo Salah, and maybe Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain beyond the defence, it is a mouth-watering prospect for Firmino as he will look to drop deep and create space for the wide players to get in behind the Burnley defence. That will be crucial as Burnley are likely to sit back, absorb the pressure and look to hit Liverpool on the break.
Firmino’s tears at full-time on Wednesday told a story about the man that he is, and he will be raring to go. He will believe that his penalty miss cost the Reds two points in Europe, and redemption will be sweet if he can make the Anfield net bulge and get the Reds back to winning ways, and in the process, getting a much-needed three points, as the Reds look to stay in touch with the Manchester clubs, who have flown off the blocks.
MOHAMED SALAH v STEPHEN WARD
Ward’s season got off to the best possible start with an absolutely stunning goal at Stamford Bridge, to set Burnley on their way to victory on the opening day. Salah hasn’t been too shabby, himself.
The Egyptian already has four goals to his name in all competitions and his pace will be a nightmare for any defender. With Mane out too, that will be Liverpool’s outlet and the main weapon against a defence that will sit deep.
Salah’s movement, in particular, has been a joy to watch and it will once again be tested fully by Burnley’s defensive discipline. Dyche knows to set his side up for big games like this and his players are good at absorbing the pressure from what is thrown at them. Given that, it would make sense for Klopp to start Trent Alexander-Arnold who definitely offers more going forward than Joe Gomez does, and that will be crucial. With Alexander-Arnold running on the outside, it would give Salah more room to manoeuvre and maybe a little more space too.
He did get a lucky goal against Sevilla, but if Salah’s finishing is anything like it was at the Etihad, a frustrating afternoon could ensue. With the abilities that he possesses, Salah should be scoring a minimum of 25 goals every season, and if his finishing is up to scratch, there is little to no doubt that he will.
DEJAN LOVREN v CHRIS WOOD
What can be said about Lovren that already hasn’t been said? How does he make such schoolboy errors with such alarming regularity? On Saturday, as he looks to atone for that calamitous error early against Sevilla, he will face a brute of a man in the New Zealander.
Wood is six-and-a-half feet tall, and has already found his goalscoring touch for Burnley, scoring their only goals in their last two league games, against Spurs and Palace.
This will be an important game for Lovren. Burnley won’t offer too much in an attacking sense, therefore his concentration will be paramount so that when the attack does come, he is alert to repel it.
Set-pieces will be a huge area of opportunity for the Clarets and with Wood’s height, he can cause damage from those situations.
Note: If Ragnar Klavan does play and not Lovren, the same things would still apply for the Estonian, who got savaged by the Man City attackers last weekend.