It was frustrating, tense, maddening, suspect, and draining. However, the three points at home to Burnley exorcised one or two demons that have been plaguing Liverpool this season, particularly in 2017. Further exorcisms will need to take place to finish in the top four, but a home win against the Premier League’s worst away side this season felt embarrassingly elephantine. Yet these were three potentially pivotal points.
Jürgen Klopp’s current first-team squad desperately requires space to thrive, and if such space is afforded to Klopp’s players, they are simply devastating. Six points against Arsenal, four points from apiece from Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, two points against Manchester United, and three dramatic three points away to Everton in the Merseyside derby. This isn't just a vindication of tactics against the best England has to offer but a demonstration of a strong mentality at the top end.
Liverpool’s defence could repel Manchester City and Spurs at Anfield, but could Merseyside’s finest do it on a Sunday afternoon against Ashley Barnes, Andre Gray, and Sam Vokes? Burnley have only collected two points away all season in the Premier League, but a robust and direct approach from the visitors impressed Klopp. The away team didn’t only have a plan to defend but clearly possessed a well-drilled method for attack.
Fighting for first and second balls were major a feature of the game throughout, and Burnley nearly found a late equaliser through Matthew Lowton. It would have been a terrible psychological blow to a team that managed to turn the game around after conceding early. Burnley were the first of the so-called smaller teams to upset the odds to beat Liverpool this season, but this game was more than just settling any perceived scores. Liverpool should be at least drawing these types of games instead of losing them after failing to break down the opposition, but struggling teams are encouraged to defend stoutly and try to unsettle Liverpool more than they should be able or allowed to.
It’s a battle for Klopp and his players to focus with just ten league games to go when such self-inflicted inconsistency appears to be a noted barrier to success. Liverpool are on pace to finish on around 75 points but may need to push closer to 80 to secure a place in the top four. Liverpool’s tactical and personnel shortcomings in 2017 have been becoming mental as well. Failure to beat Burnley would have raised further questions that fine performances against Manchester City and Everton would not dispel, while defeat would have been unthinkable if somewhat unsurprising.
Successive league victories for the first time in 2017 in two very different types of games at Anfield show that Liverpool might be ready to put recent troubles aside to push on. The final eight games will prove to be the biggest test of the Reds’ credentials in a scenario where six into the top four does not go. Sunday’s win may not herald a change in fortunes against teams in the bottom half, but Liverpool have delayed further questions for now.