Steven Scragg sums up the intrigue, the difficulty and the impressive response surrounding Liverpool’s trip to Burnley on Wednesday night.
Five points behind the Premier League leaders going into the game at Burnley.
A risky number of changes to the team; a starting line-up that had never taken to the field together with a Liverbird upon their chest. Did anyone do the risk assessment for this?
No place in the side for Mohamed Salah or Roberto Firmino. Sadio Mane out injured, Alberto Moreno in, Joe Gomez to right back, Jordan Henderson and James Milner sharing the midfield.
This was League Cup third round behaviour, essentially.
Yes, there are a lot of games in December and there is no perfect time to ring seven changes, but this felt edgy, this felt like was an unnecessary gamble.
Little Lion Man
Throw in Joe Hart having an uncharacteristically inspired performance and this one initially made for uncomfortable viewing.
Luckily enough, however, no matter how well Hart plays, it’s inevitable he’ll still allow one in.
Is it just me that hears an adaptation of that awful Mumford and Sons song, ‘Little Lion Man’ at the back of the mind whenever he plays?
It was Joe Hart on the line. He really fucked it up this time…
This general unease about the game was added to further when Gomez exited with a worrying-looking injury, when on the receiving end of a strong but fair challenge, laced with a subtle amount of belated ‘foot left in’ by Ben Mee.
It was the type of challenge we all love seeing Andrew Robertson administer.
The lack of Robertson was another reason for the low-level anxiety; the resulting presence of Moreno was another.
How is Tony Gallagher’s progress coming along by the way? I think it’s time that Robertson’s understudy at left-back was another no-nonsense and committed Scottish ball of skill and energy.
Against the Run of Play
We’d survived a few scares here and there. David Bardsley hit one sweetly, from distance, which was always arcing wide, amusingly bouncing off the head of an unsuspecting steward.
Ashley Barnes swept an impressive effort past Alisson Becker, only to have timed his run a split-second too early.
Bardsley was lucky not to see a red card for going over the top of the ball on Xherdan Shaqiri.
Happily, we emerged for the second half in a more positive frame of mind and Burnley’s goal was a bit suspect one way or the other.
Live by the bonkers goal, die by the bonkers goal you could suggest, but we had seemed to be building up the pressure on Burnley when they scored.
A hint of offside here, an unfair challenge on the goalkeeper there. It was a gruff goal, carved by gruff players, at the behest of a gruff manager, in a gruff environment.
Other versions of Liverpool would have sulked their way to a 2-0 defeat from there. Instead, we stuck to the program and Milner’s equaliser was wonderful.
Milner might have put us level, but Naby Keita was the generator of our second half improvements. He set the tempo.
Before Burnley mugged us of the opening goal, the former RB Leipzig man had begun to offer examples of the power and drive which had us waiting an impatient 12-months for his arrival at Anfield.
Hart tipped an excellent shot onto the post. Watching Manchester City fans will have been nursing a warm sense of self-satisfaction at this point.
Then we went 1-0 down.
The introduction of Salah and Firmino was being prepared when we equalised. I loved the way the new goalscoring development made no difference to the planned changes.
Imagine Burnley shoulders slumping over losing the lead, only to see immediately Salah and Firmino enter the fray.
These changes marked the end of the Moreno experiment.
Divock Origi’s last act was to tee-up Milner for the equaliser. Fine work from him during the last few days. We now have an extra option for the busy winter period.
Firmino made it 2-1 with his very first touch of the ball. Virgil van Dijk with the imperious contribution. It all seemed so simple that the low-level anxieties of the first half suddenly felt foolish.
How could we have doubted the wisdom of seven changes, inclusive of the entirety of our iconic front three sitting this one out?
Keita really was excellent, and we can only look forward to seeing more of it. Along with Salah, he offered a mad barrage of efforts. Twice saved, once blocked, one cleared off the line, where he could have scored three times in roughly five seconds.
Alisson was the driving force behind the third goal.
The save, the determination to keep the ball from going out for another corner, the quick release to Daniel Sturridge.
Last season, Simon Mignolet would have been prowling from one side of the penalty area to the other in similar circumstances, while you’re screaming at him to drop the ball, so as not to be penalised for holding onto it for too long.
Loris Karius probably allows the initial shot to hit the bar, allowing chaos the ensue amongst his defenders.
Alisson, to Sturridge, to Salah, to Shaqiri. 3-1. It was a work of art. I love this version of Liverpool.
Shuffle and Repeat?
Hard to imagine another collection of changes won’t be made at Bournemouth on Saturday. The trick is not to let them upset the cohesion of the team.
I often mention the importance in clusters of games. Saturday, however, is traditional ‘one game at a time’ territory.
Win on the south coast and we will go back to the top of the Premier League, if only for a few hours.
Pressure will be applied upon a Manchester City side who will be facing a Chelsea that will be harbouring a sense of vague desperation, as the wheels continue to wobble on their recently cashed-in unbeaten start to the season.
Thoughts of Napoli need to be shelved for now. Saturday is our latest ‘biggest game of the season.’