After successfully dominating Arsenal in possession on Sunday, Brendan Rodgers sent out the exact same line-up to face Burnley for a festive Boxing Day fixture that became less and less fun as the game wore on. Burnley had clearly done their homework and quickly dominated Liverpool in the opening phase of the match.
Burnley had a good chance in the 14th minute when Brad Jones was caught watching a Danny Ings shot that he clearly thought would go wide but that ended up hitting the post. Two minutes later, Jones was substituted having apparently sustained a non-specific injury to his thigh, allowing an out of favour and out of sorts Simon Mignolet to return to the fold at a wholly unexpected point in the game. Liverpool continued to labour against an organized Burnley side, failing to do much in midfield and ultimately getting to the half with the match still tied nil-nil.
The second half saw Emre Can substituted for Kolo Touré right from the beginning of the restart. Liverpool looked better — which wasn't necessarily saying much — and at the 62 minute mark, a through ball from Philippe Coutinho and a nice bit circumnavigating around Burnley keeper Tom Heaton saw Raheem Sterling slot home the game's winning and only goal.
Liverpool managed to not immediately concede within the next minute, and Brendan Rodgers used his third and final substitution on Rickie Lambert. Lambert didn't add much to the attack on a personal level, but his presence seemed to spark some life into Adam Lallana, who was less tricksy and fleet footed than he has been in recent outings. Liverpool stuck it out until the final whistle, emerging with all three points on the road in a match that they never really looked much like winning.
It gets said a lot and that's probably because it's true: title winning sides are built on matches where the overall performance is unimpressive but the team still manages to grind out a win. Liverpool are not a title-challenging side this season by any stretch of the imagination, but three points are three points and winning a poorly fought game is still important for team morale, for climing the table, and for preventing fans from going off the deep end. It's not pretty, but it is necessary.
Raheem Sterling continued to demonstrate why he's still the best player on the team at the tender age of twenty, with the elderly-by-comparison Philippe Coutinho also putting in a positive performance. Though he only played half the match, Emre Can was also a standout despite being shoehorned into a CB position that he has little experience in at the senior level. Steven Gerrard was unremarkable, and poor Jordan Henderson continued to struggle.
Most of the challenges in retaining possession in midfield will be overlooked due to the match's biggest talking point, which was once again revolved around the goalkeepers. Brad Jones was positively statuesque on the Ings shot that hit the post, which could be seen as an improvement over diving the wrong way on a shot. His rapid substitution seemed connected to this poorly judged moment, but Jones allegedly sustained a thigh injury that required him to come out of the game.
It was Simon Mignolet's chance to return to the side and demonstrate the effect his Rodgers-imposed time off had on his confidence. Unfortunately, Mignolet didn't look any better than he had prior to being benched, and in places seemed worse, including an oddly uncharacteristic moment where he played a ball out for a corner. Barring the grounds team using invisible chalk on the goal line, there's little to explain that particular brain lapse.
It was an unsatisfying match to win, and Burnley will feel hard done by to not have earned at least a point at home against a lethargic Liverpool side. But as Liverpool continue to plow through a busy fixture list, it's three points earned in the first of three matches where all nine should be there for the taking. Brendan Rodgers continues to have lots of questions to ask of his side, especially when it comes to whatever it is that's happening between the posts, but he won't have much time to find answers before Liverpool face Swansea on Monday.