Liverpool came from behind to clinch all three points in a 3-1 win at Burnley, a victory which ensures the Reds have recorded their best-ever league start.
Burnley 1-3 Liverpool
Premier League, Turf Moor
December 5, 2018
Goals: Cork 54’; Milner 62’, Firmino 69’, Shaqiri 90+1’
Keita’s Star Shone Brightly
Unlike a few of his team-mates who struggled to take their opportunity, Keita’s energy and forward impetus was a shining light in what was a largely dull first half.
He continually looked to put the Reds on the front foot and was not shy in matching Burnley’s physicality in the middle of the park or showcasing the ability we all know he has—which was crucial in addressing the lack of connection between the midfield and forwards in recent weeks.
Keita was unlucky not to get himself on the scoresheet either after a thumping strike in the second half required a full-stretched Joe Hart to deny him before his deft flick was then blocked on the line.
Performances like that will be more than welcome in the weeks and months to come.
Seven changes were made from the win over Everton, and four players with a combined seven league starts prior to Wednesday’s clash were given the nod.
It paved the way for a disjointed performance as kicking the ball straight out of play became the early theme of the evening.
While the intention to rest the likes of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Andy Robertson—who have all played at least 13 of the first 14 league games—cannot be disputed during a period of intense fixture congestion, the drop in quality ultimately invited Burnley to try their luck.
The hosts had nothing to lose heading into the game, which their physicality and rash tackles showed, as they offered little space for Liverpool’s untried XI to work themselves into the match.
With a front six who had never played together before it was always going to be a scrappy encounter, but those given the opportunity to force themselves into future contention struggled to do so.
It ultimately shone a light on an issue which has long held Liverpool back from sustaining a challenge on multiple fronts as a shallow depth of quality continues to be exposed when mass changes are required.
The squad is far from the finished article, but it was a reminder that certain players are not of the level required and further additions need to be made as the Reds’ usual suspects were called on to turn the game in Liverpool’s favour.
Emotion Over Logic in Origi Selection
Divock Origi made his first start for Liverpool since the 4-0 win over West Ham in May 2017, a period of time where Nathaniel Clyne was a defensive regular and Philippe Coutinho, Lucas Leiva and Emre Can were still on Merseyside.
His selection came after his heroics at the death against Everton and the need to offer a rest to the usual front three, and it seems the decision to name him in the starting lineup was one borne out of emotion rather than logic.
He was always going to be slightly off the pace having been on the periphery for so long.
But with Rhian Brewster waiting in the wings upon his return from injury and the likes of Salah, Firmino and Daniel Sturridge all more than capable of leading the line, his selection from hereon out is likely to be severely limited.
Although a goal and an assist in two games should not be discounted, as mentioned he ultimately missed an opportunity to stake a claim for a more prominent role in the team and it is hard to see how much higher his ceiling is.
Jurgen Klopp has been criticised for the timing and selection of his substitutions in the past, with Joel Matip the obvious example in recent times with the manager often turning to the defender in the dying stages.
But on Wednesday night, Klopp was on the front foot and rejected the idea of a draw after James Milner levelled the scores as Salah and Firmino were introduced within minutes of the restart—a decision which swung the game in the Reds’ favour.
The Brazilian put Liverpool in front three minutes after he entered the field of play with his first touch, while Salah then went on to put the result beyond doubt by setting up Xherdan Shaqiri after a perfectly executed counter-attack.
Not only was the player choice decisive, but the timing as well.
5 subs scored for @LFC in the whole of the 17-18 season. So far this season 6 subs have scored. Squad depth.
— Ged Rea (@ged0407) December 6, 2018
Too often Liverpool substitutes are asked to do too much with little time left on the clock, but against Burnley the attacking duo were given 30 minutes to work their magic.
Their introduction flipped the game on its head and ensured Liverpool were clinical when they needed to be, and it also saw the goal tally for substitutes this term rise to six—one more than the entirety of last season.
Revival Provides Springboard for Weeks Ahead
Two games in the last three days has seen four goals hit the back of the net in the second half ensuring Liverpool left each game with three points in the bag.
With a hectic list of fixtures ahead, and decisive ones at that, the confidence and morale boost that provides cannot be discounted as the Reds continue on the path to find their rhythm.
The Reds were pragmatic and professional against Burnley in the second half and with Bournemouth and Napoli now on the horizon they must continue in the same vein if they are to continue their historic start to their Premier League season and progress into the last 16 of the Champions League.
Yet, while confidence will be high over their ability to manage and kill a game late on just as the opposition think they are in with a chance, the injury to Joe Gomez will no doubt come as a major setback.
He has forged a budding partnership alongside Van Dijk and his absence will cause an unwanted reshuffle in the backline, but let’s hope it is not long-term as he has been integral to our bright start to the campaign.