Saturday, 27 December 2014

Reds win ugly at Burnley on Boxing Day

It wasn’t pretty, but Liverpool secured the all-important three points at Turf Moor yesterday.

The Reds were second best for large spells, but ground out a crucial Boxing Day victory thanks to a little bit of class from Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling on the hour mark, the former cleverly setting up the latter for his first Premier League goal since September. Encouragingly, Liverpool saw off the threat posed by the hosts to keep only their fifth League clean sheet of the season and return to Merseyside with a win that elevates them to ninth in the table.

Pacey 17-year old winger Sheyi Ojo sat on the bench for the visitors in the main team news, as Rodgers made no changes to the starting line-up that took to the field against Arsenal at Anfield last time out.

That meant that Australian keeper Brad Jones remained between the sticks, although he only lasted 16 minutes before he pulled up with a thigh injury and had to be replaced by Simon Mignolet. Prior to that point, Sean Dyche’s men had started in the ascendancy, their star striker Danny Ings striking the best chance of the game against the woodwork after a defensive lapse from Skrtel.

Once Mignolet entered the action, he looked nervy. The spell on the sidelines that was supposed to help him regain his confidence away from the limelight had clearly not had the desired effect. He still looked indecisive from set pieces and uncertain with the ball at his feet, dallying and thus smashing a clearance dangerously against Ings on 21 minutes and then ridiculously delaying a clearance so that it actually went behind for a corner kick at one point during the second period. The January transfer window, in which Rodgers can recruit a new stopper, cannot come quick enough.

Mignolet produced another unconvincing performance
At the other end, Liverpool struggled to get going, as Burnley hurried them enthusiastically and forced the away side into errors. The best chance they could create came on the half hour mark when Gerrard picked out Lallana with a quality pass, but the former Southampton skipper’s tame shot was comfortably saved by Heaton.

The Clarets could sense an upset and went close to opening the scoring before the break, Lucas’ toe the only thing stopping Arfield’s volley from distance finding the bottom corner before Boyd fired inches over from 20 yards.

During the interval, Rodgers replaced Toure with Emre Can, which was a brave move considering it left him with only one substitution left to use to bring on an attacker to get the goal that Liverpool desperately needed. It was a sensible decision, though, as the versatile German settled in at centre back swiftly, shoring up the defence and keeping the ball far better than Kolo, whose woeful 63% passing accuracy was 11% lower than Can’s.

The course of the match wasn’t altered a great deal, but Burnley’s attack seemed slightly blunted, failing to register a shot on target throughout the course of the 90 minutes. An otherwise fairly average match came to life just after the hour mark with a piece of magic from the Reds. Coutinho flicked a superb ball over the top of Burnley’s defence, and Sterling strode through confidently, rounding Heaton and then finding the back of the net to give Liverpool an arguably undeserved lead.

Sterling is slowly getting back to his best
It was a great move that demonstrated the difference having quality players in your squad makes, particularly in tight games where neither side is hitting top form.

Liverpool improved after taking the lead, Coutinho drilling a shot wide and then his replacement Rickie Lambert seeing his effort chalked off due to offside only minutes after entering the fray. There were still a few hairy moments during the closing stages, Boyd firing just over the bar with a couple of minutes left on the clock, but the Reds held on to emerge with three vital points from a potentially tricky fixture.

Although not as exhilarating as the high octane draw with Arsenal last Sunday, I’ll take a scrappy and instantly forgettable 1-0 win every day of the week right now. Liverpool need to start winning matches and, with time, their form will pick up as a result.

At the moment, taking an away win and a clean sheet from a game in which they were far from their best is unquestionably a sign of improvement for the Reds. However, they must perform much better to take maximum points from their match against high flying Swansea at Anfield on Monday night.


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