This Liverpool team is constantly finding new ways to win. From the last-ditch Derby victory at the weekend to this late charge from behind on a grim Lancashire night, the Reds are fighting tooth and nail to stay in contention for the Premier League title.
Burnley, for all the warmth of its ordinary folk, feels like the land that time forgot. The air is no longer filled with the smog of the Industrial Revolution but when the rain pours down from leaden skies like this, the seat of the Clarets is a scene from football’s bygone age. Only the neon glow of the floodlights shines a torch through the gloom to Turf Moor.
After two years of overachievement under Sean Dych, and last season a finish high enough to secure a Europa League place, this term Burnley have struggled to fight the natural order and now reside only a spot above the bottom rung. As ever, with Manchester City again stretching their lead to five points at Watford, only three points here will suffice.
With the weekend trip to Bournemouth and a Champions League do–or–die summit with Napoli on the horizon, Jurgen Klopp decides to make seven changes to his line-up. Sadio Mane is a derby casualty and Mohammed Salah and Roberto Firmino get some bench rest so Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi accompany Xherdan Shaqiri in an alien attack. It’s a huge gamble by Klopp but feels like one he has to take with the games in this relentless pursuit coming thick and fast.
Liverpool’s grey change strip, with incongruous red socks, adds to the unfamiliarity and in the first half the Reds struggle to better Burnley’s willing graft. The midfield is a log-jam of bodies and only Naby Keita, starting again after a significant hiatus in his early Liverpool career, makes an impression with the occasional impressive injection of pace. The only incident of note is a concerning one for the Reds as we see Joe Gomez pinned to a stretcher after a typically hefty challenge by Burnley’s Ben Mee.
When the home side take the lead after the break, with a scruffy poke home from Jack Cork after Alisson initially saves from a corner, the task seems a gargantuan one. The Liverpool end is thoroughly deflated and the wisdom of Klopp’s extensive reshuffle is called into question. But these lads are made of stern stuff; a palpable sense of will overriding their obvious talents. Chief in grit and determination is James Milner; an honest Yorkshire yeoman for whom this challenge represents the War of the Roses. His cold, unerring steer into the bottom corner brings parity for the Reds and hope anew.
Sensing blood, Klopp opts to call on his big guns as Salah and Firmino enter the fray from the sidelines. Within minutes his adventure is rewarded and Liverpool are in front to the delight of an ecstatic away throng. Trent Alexander-Arnold’s chipped free-kick is turned back across goal by a telescopic stretch of Virgil Van Dijk’s right leg and Firmino taps home gleefully with his first touch. The Liverpool end is now exultant and belts out a chorus of a new anthem for our Brazilian talisman. It matters not a jot that the Red hordes holler “Si Senor” in salute, even if it perplexes a lad whose mother tongue is Portuguese.
As ever, once a position of ascendancy is established the nerves kick in once more and a desperate Burnley still have enough gumption to make the final quarter of the game an uncomfortable watch with so much at stake. So conditioned are we from previous seasons to late defensive lapses, the natural instinct is to live in constant fear of the worst outcome in the closing stages.
Sure enough, our hearts are in our mouths as the home side launch one final assault. An almighty aerial scramble from a corner sees Mee nod agonisingly towards to the top corner at the far end and – as time stands still – it looks for all the world a crushing equaliser squeezed between crossbar and post. Suddenly though, Alisson’s luminous pink frame careers across goal and an outstretched arm claws the ball away in barely credible fashion bringing gasps of admiration and relief in equal measure.
Moments later Alisson reaches high to gather on the goal line and prevent another corner; in the blink of an eye spotting Sturridge in space with Burnley now exposed. Sturridge’s chip into the path of the onrushing Salah and the Egyptian’s clip towards Shaqiri on the burst sees the Swiss side-foot home with aplomb.
Three more points in the bag. With each passing test the belief grows stronger. This Liverpool team walks on not just with hope, but with conviction in its heart.
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by Tom Bodell