Timely boost for Reds

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Match Report
Burnley 0-4 Liverpool
Sunday, 25th April 2010

Liverpool returned to winning ways, and gave themselves a timely boost ahead of Thursday nights crucial Europa League encounter, with a comfortable 4-0 away victory at Turf Moor.

A couple of goals from skipper Steven Gerrard and one each for Maxi Rodriguez and Ryan Babel sealed the three points. Amazingly, a first domestic away win since December 29th and only the second victory away from home by more than the odd goal all season thus far.

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It is Liverpool’s away form which has been their greatest downfall this season. Just a fifth away league victory with one to play – combine that with some disappointing performances away from Anfield in Europe and the facts speak for themselves. Compare that with 13 away victories and a vastly greater goals tally in the Premier League last term, and you begin to get some idea of where the Reds drastically need to improve next season.

Back to the game against relegation doomed Burnley though. And this was arguably the first time that the travelling Reds fans have been able to experience the relative comfort of a convincing and comprehensive away victory all season.

This was a game of two contrasting halves though. The first had all the resemblances of the many frustrating and below-par away displays previously this campaign. The Reds struggled to generate the kind of tempo, confidence and ingenuity in their play to impose themselves on a sub-standard Premier League side in the form of Burnley, in the opening 45 minutes.

However, after Gerrard manufactured an opening goal out of nothing early in the second half, Liverpool grew in confidence and were able to stroll to victory and notch some moral boosting goals in the process. Burnley wilted as they were condemned to an immediate return to the Championship, having displayed some early resolve.

It was a tetchy and animated Turf Moor which greeted the Reds, even if there was somewhat of an air of resignation around the club even prior to kick-off, with their survival hopes hanging by a thread. With David N’Gog unavailable through a back injury, Dirk Kuyt was granted the task of leading the attack by Rafa Benitez. Alberto Aquilani was asked to play the main supporting role in behind the Dutchman. With Gerrard pushed deeper alongside Javier Mascherano in midfield.

With a commanding midfield presence, Liverpool dominated early possession, but the opening half really lacked any quality from either side. The Reds frustrated and flattered to deceive early on – something which has been a recurring theme this season. The likes of Gerrard and Aquilani struggled to get on the ball and impose themselves as a creative force in the centre, and Kuyt failed to cause the home defence much concern.

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The Reds were often far too careless and wasteful in possession to generate any momentum and threaten a porous Burnley defence. The nature of the match began to suit a home side desperate for a lifeline. An effort from the edge of the box by Ryan Babel – which the winger-come-forward screwed wide – and an effort from Gerrard, comfortably saved by Brian Jensen after the captain had burst into the box, were the only true facets of attacking threat by the visitors in the opening period.

The hosts were all guile and effort, but, as their plight would suggest, are desperately short of quality themselves. Steven Fletcher – probably Burnley’s main threat – headed Martin Paterson’s cross over the bar. And just before the break young midfielder Jack Cork was presented with the golden opportunity the home fans were willing for. Tyrone Mears’ cross found Cork in space in the area but his header was straight at Pepe Reina.

Liverpool were desperate for a foothold in the game. And it duly arrived soon after half time, courtesy of their captain. Gerrard has been subjected to plenty of criticism this season and has certainly been below his extremely high standards on many occasions. But the midfielder was back to his inspirational, match-winning ways here, with two individual strikes.

Babel shot tamely at Jensen when in space at the far post – if it could be warranted as a shot. But on 52 minutes the Reds had a breakthrough. There was some neat interplay with Yossi Benayoun – who had replaced the injured Kuyt – in the build-up, before Gerrard cut inside and shot for goal from twenty yards out. Jensen perhaps would have had the effort covered, yet the ball took a wicked deflection off Leon Cort, wrong-footing the keeper, and into the bottom corner.

Liverpool had the luck they really needed. And soon after the lead was doubled. The second will be far more memorable for the skipper. Maxi Rodriguez’s well placed ball found Aquilani behind the Burnley defence. The Italian was able to knock the ball back for Gerrard, who proceeded to curl a stunning first time shot from 25-yards beyond a helpless Jensen.

The Reds were finally in control of proceedings, and no one more so than Maxi. The clever Argentine has gradually been improving and gaining more admirers since his mid-season transfer. His simple, yet intelligent and effective style was again influential here.

Maxi was good value for his first goal in a Liverpool shirt on 74 minutes. A goal which seemed to have been coming for a few weeks. Aquilani – who was also growing as a creative force in the match – played an excellently weighted ball through for Maxi to run onto and finish well beyond Jensen and into the far corner. Condemning the home fans to relegation once and for all.

It was an afternoon which began so frustratingly but ultimately ended comfortably for the Reds. Yet it was left to one of the most frustrating figures of all to put the icing on the cake. The Dutchman was pressed into a role as a centre forward after Kuyt was worryingly forced off with a calf strain. And with N’Gog also doubtful with injury it is a role he may be asked to fill again.

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Babel had offered little when given his chance to lead the line in the past couple of games, yet he was able to beat the offside trap and run clear onto Lucas’ through-ball. He almost contrived to miss his golden chance but Babel’s shot squirmed under Jensen for the fourth.

With both Manchester City and Tottenham failing to register wins over the weekend, this result very much keeps alive that glint of hope of Champions League football for the Reds going into the final two fixtures. More immediately though, this will hopefully be a timely boost ahead of what promises to be a big night in the season this Thursday evening against Atletico Madrid.

Man of the Match
STEVEN GERRARD
His two goals swung the game in Liverpool’s favour and we began to see glimpses of the influence and quality which had at times been absent from Gerrard’s game this season.

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