Burnley 2 Vokes 2’, Gray 36’
Liverpool donned their highlight marker kits for the first time and their play to open the game was a similarly shocking sight. A frustrating day to be a Red, and one that we hope will provide some lessons going forward.
Jürgen Klopp trotted out a 4-3-3 formation, slotting James Milner in for Alberto Moreno with Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum in the midfield. Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, and Daniel Sturridge rounded out the front three.
Liverpool kicked off with a routine straight from high school, gifting possession immediately, which Burnley were happy to give back. Liverpool, never one to be one-upped, promptly coughed up the ball again for a Burnley goal inside two minutes.
The goal came after new boy Ragnar Klavan switched the ball across field to Nathaniel Clyne, who took it down nicely before playing a square ball to no one. Burnley pounced on it, and two touches later it was at the feet of Sam Vokes, alone at the 18. He still had some work to do, and with Liverpool’s defenders closing, he turned and smacked a beautiful strike just below the upper 90 sweet spot and past the helpless Simon Mignolet.
From there, the game settled into what would prove to be a mind-numbing and maddening pattern: Liverpool passing it around the back before moving it slowly up to the final third; and then Liverpool doing nothing once the ball made it to the final third or outright gifting possession with sloppy passes that resulted in lost possession, near injuries from hospital balls, or breakdowns in fluidity that warranted a reset ball back to Henderson’s, Klavan’s, or Dejan Lovren’s feet.
Burnley were content to let Liverpool have the ball and selectively press for counterattacking opportunities. Besides the opening goal, warning signs abounded. Dejan Lovren was forced into an admittedly beautiful last-ditch tackle at the 3:42 mark after new signing Andre Gray was played through off terribly lackadaisical play from Liverpool.
Despite the warnings, Liverpool continued to play at a verve that best can be described as elegiac. To be fair, much of this was due to Burnley’s organization. Liverpool looked to turn the screws for a little bit and did have some nice interplay on display, but between Phil blasting it over the bar repeatedly; or Adam Lallana simply falling over with a chance to shoot; or Daniel Sturridge seemingly incapable of sprinting full speed after Coutinho played an inch-perfect through ball or passes being woefully over hit; or Sturridge dropping into Liverpool’s own half to receive the ball; or the few shots on target being hit weakly and into the welcoming arms of Tom Heaton, Liverpool didn’t look much like scoring. Still after last week, it was hard to believe our beautiful Reds wouldn’t get it together at some point.
Then Burnley capitalized on some of Liverpool’s loose play a second time. Liverpool lost possession in their attacking third near Burnley’s box. One pass to Steven Defour later and he was charging at a Liverpool defense scrambling to get into position. Klavan stepped forward at midfield to intercept the run and was unlucky to have his block ricochet off Defour’s shin, who was now charging downfield at the retreating Liverpool defenders and flanked by Andre Gray on his right.
The defenders converged on Defour, who slipped it Gray at the top of the 18. He took three touches: one to cut inside the first man, one to cut inside the oncoming Klavan, who waved his foot in the general direction of the ball, and then placed a very nice ball just inside Mignolet’s far post. Whether Migs could have done anything about this one may be debated by some, but there is no question that shot should never have come off.
Immediately prior to that goal this author’s notes said “SCREWS” - and what had been a promising run of play from Liverpool was in shambles after Burnley’s absolutely perfect counterattacking second. Clyne shot meekly with his weaker foot right at Heaton after some decent work, Phil blasted over the bar at least one if not a thousand more times, and the half-time whistle blew.
Most Reds would be forgiven for expecting some half time changes, but just as he did last week, Klopp sent out the same eleven. Unlike last week, Liverpool did not explode out of the blocks, though things did look better.
Sturridge flashed a shot wide with his right foot shortly after the restart, Coutinho shot on target! but right at Heaton, Firmino struck a vicious drive at the right upper 90 which was well saved by Heaton, and the Reds showed a bit more inventiveness in the attacking third, capped by a nice move that got the ball to Sturridge about 12 yards from goal in the center of the box. Like so much of the day, his final touch let him down, though, and it was cut out by Burnley’s excellent defense before he could get a shot off.
On 64 minutes, Sturridge was for some reason receiving the ball just outside Liverpool’s own box, and at this point, Klopp hooked him for Divock Origi. The change reshuffled the formation as Origi took the 9 spot and injected Liverpool with a little bit more intent, but it was not enough, though at this point Liverpool had increased their possession stats to a staggering 85%.
Alberto Moreno and Marko Grujic replaced Milner and Lallana, respectively, on 75 minutes, and the young Serb nearly paid his manager back immediately. Some lovely footwork granted him a moment to shoot with his left foot from the 18 and he struck true, but Heaton was up to the challenge palming the ball over the bar. Liverpool had two more chances of note, one of which fell to Coutinho only eight yards from goal, but both were well blocked, particularly Lowton’s on Coutinho.
25 shots on goal with only five on target is never something to be proud of, and the Reds’ inability to break down a compact and well-drilled Burnley side was a worrying sight. One hopes that the return of Sadio Mane will be next weekend, and that the curious case of the missing Emre Can will be solved.
A disappointing day, to say the least, but the season is long and Klopp has shown an ability to learn from these sorts of matches. Kudos to Sean Dyche and Burnley: a deserved three points for them.