Despite going behind within six mintes, Liverpool claimed a 4-2 victory over Burnley at Anfield overnight on Sunday to ensure that they remain a stone’s throw away from top spot.
Burnley took a stunning lead both in likelihood and in eventuation when Ashley Westwood scored directly from an in-swinging corner as players in white shirts surrounded Alisson, disabling him from challenging for the ball.
The equaliser was incoming before the game reached 20 minutes when a crisp one-two between Mohamed Salah and Georginio Wijnaldum allowed the former through in the box, and his cut back was made a hash of by Tom Heaton and James Tarkowski allowing Roberto Firmino an open goal from centimetres out.
By the time the first half hour had evaporated the hosts had the lead back. Adam Lallana justified his inclusion in the team with a superb pressing tackle which took the ball into Salah’s path, and as the retreating tackle came in the ball skewed out for Sadio Mane to thump into the corner for his 15th Premier League goal of the season.
The third was scored in quite similar fashion to the second in that Salah was through on goal after a poorly struck goal kick by Heaton and when he was tackled as he shaped to shoot, Firmino was on hand to prod home his second of the match.
It could have been four in the 82nd minute when a beautiful Liverpool move culminated in Trent Alexander-Arnold’s fizzed ball across the six-yard box found Mane, but the Senegalese somehow turned the ball onto the crossbar and over as he slid in and directed his strike into the ground rather than into the net.
Mane did eventually get his double – but only after Johannes Berg Gudmundsson struck in injury time after some lax Liverpool defending – calming any last-minute nerves by rounding Heaton and rolling the ball home at the Kop end.
Gearing up for the fight
After relinquishing top spot in the Premier League last week by drawing at Everton, Liverpool know that they must now be up for a fight to lift their first Premier League trophy and they proved with this performance that they are ready for it.
Going down so early and in such bizarre and frustrating circumstances, the onus was on the Reds to respond accordingly, and they did so by remaining calm, bossing possession and dictating the play.
In other games where things have not quite gone to plan in the early goings, Liverpool have at times looked restless and played a nervous brand of football, but it was as if they were playing at 3-0 up rather than 1-0 down and at risk of potentially slipping out of the title race.
Their performance was largely complete bar the two concessions, with the midfield working together to win back and retain possession, the front three moving freely and fluidly and the back four shutting down any avenues that became apparently going towards a Burnley goal.
Firmino in particular was someone who has been a shadow of himself at times during recent outings, but he was at his intelligent and dynamic best here with two opportunistic goals and his trademark movement making space for himself and others.
In difficult conditions against a robust team and facing adversity soon after kick-off, Liverpool rose to the task and sent a message to Manchester City that they will not lie down in the title race.
Burnley throw the lead again
For the second time this season, and indeed the third time in their last four meetings with Liverpool, Burnley failed to win after registering the first goal.
In the reverse fixture at Turf Moor this season, Jack Cork’s scrappy goal was looking to have the Clarets on their way to a famous victory but Liverpool turned their play up a gear that was not in Burnley’s locker as they ran out 3-1 winners.
The objective of many teams when coming to Anfield is trying to stop Liverpool from scoring and seeing if they can nick a goal for themselves, and for 20 minutes that objective was being completed by Sean Dyche’s men.
From kick-off after their opener, however, they never looked likely to hold onto the lead as Liverpool pressed and pushed and eventually broke what was a considerably feeble Burnley resistance.
Charlie Taylor was sensational at left-back, making a number of goal-saving blocks and retrieving possession for the visitors, but his teammates across the back four failed to shoulder their fair share of the load.
Cork and Westwood offered very little support in front of their defence as they were unable to stop balls through the channels into the feet of Liverpool’s front men and failed to win the ball frequently enough.
Facing a fight of their own at the bottom of the Premier League, Dyche will want to see more urgency and far greater guile in his side’s performances in future games as they battle to sustain their Premier League status.
The likely and the unsung hero
Mane continued his incredible goalscoring form with another two goals here, whilst it was a less than likely standing ovation reserved for Lallana when he was substituted after a performance that showed what he still has left in him at the top level.
Senegalese Mane has now scored in six consecutive league games at Anfield and struck eight times in as many games, suddenly appearing just two goals away from Sergio Aguero in the golden boot race, as well as notching his 50th goal as a Liverpool player.
He has been the Reds’ key performer of late and ensured that they stay within touching distance of the top, and continued his purple patch in this game.
Making just his fourth start in the league this season, Lallana’s inclusion from the off raised a few eyebrows and left some perplexed, but certainly everyone was convinced after watching his performance.
The former Southampton man exhibited terrific energy, buzzing around the pitch with intensity and desire, closing down opponents and winning the ball back and showing the fleetness of foot that saw him become an integral part of Jurgen Klopp’s team as well as the England set-up before injuries hampered his momentum.
The 30-year-old has often – and unfairly – been singled out as a scapegoat for any sluggish Liverpool performances, but he issued a timely reminder of his quality and of exactly what he can bring to Liverpool’s charge towards the league title.