It had looked like Burnley were on a high in 2019, winning three games in a row between the end of December and mid-January.
A patch of draws followed, and then two wins in February, including a shock victory against Tottenham.
But, since then, they have lost two on the bounce.
It’s not as if the opponents were particularly strong either, Newcastle and Crystal Palace. Sean Dyche’s team are in 16th, five points ahead of the relegation zone. Prime candidates, then, for Liverpool to put a stop to their slump against them, right?
It should be said that Burnley have deserved their upward trajectory in form since the end of 2018.
After truly awful statistics that saw them conceding chances worth well over two expected goals per game at the start of the season, they’ve brought things back. Since early January, the difference between their expected goals and their opponents’ — their ‘expected goals difference’ — basically breaks even.
So, they’re midtable now, on form. But Liverpool are still Liverpool. Mostly.
In the same timespan as the one that Burnley have been the definition of league average — since January 12 — Liverpool have the third-best expected goals difference in the league (+4.2).
The only clubs above them are the Manchester clubs. United are on +5.3. But City are far, far ahead of everyone in this timespan, with an expected goals difference of +14.6.
There was a time in the season where the Reds were keeping pace with Pep Guardiola’s side in this measure, both genuine title contenders with claims to be among the best teams in Premier League history.
But, of late, Liverpool haven’t been able to keep to that pace. It’s shown in the results, obviously, but sometimes teams go through a bad patch of luck and their statistics can give them comfort that it’ll all get better soon.
The table says that Burnley’s trip to Anfield is a title challenger hosting a relegation battler. The form book says that this is a top four team against a midtable side. It still gives the Reds the edge, but significantly less of one.
Burnley a bogey side?
Burnley are no longer a Liverpool bogey team, though, if they ever were in the first place.
The reputation was gained shortly after the club were promoted back to the Premier League in 2016/17, Burnley’s 2-0 home win a surprising outcome in their second league game of the season.
The assumption was that the club were still the small-fries that had gone down fairly dismally in 2014/15, and that Liverpool under Klopp would be a force to be reckoned with. The result went against both, and so a narrative was born.
The Reds have won three and drawn one of their four matches since then, though, with Liverpool scoring eight goals across them.
Peculiarly, Klopp has never been able to keep a clean sheet against them, which is odd for a team who is usually short on goals. This season, Dyche’s team have failed to score in ten of their 29 league games.
The Reds will have added motivation, as if they needed it, to beat Burnley, after Joe Gomez was injured against them back in December.
“We won the game but the challenges from the beginning, the sliding tackling on that wet ground, I really think the referee should have said something earlier,” Klopp said after the game.
“The injury threat is massive. You get the ball, nice, but it’s like bowling because you get the player as well. It happened four or five times.”
Gomez is still recovering from the lower leg fracture and the timing of his return is still uncertain.
This match will not be a friendly one.
Liverpool vs Burnley odds
*odds subject to change.
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by Tom Bodell