After Manchester City’s dominant showing against Watford, Liverpool needed a win against Burnley to keep the title race alive. Meanwhile, Southampton’s plucky victory over Tottenham meant they leap-frogged Burnley on goal difference – putting pressure on the Clarets to cause an upset at Anfield and avoid a relegation battle.
Jurgen Klopp outed the same 4-3-3 formation but reverted Divock Origi and Jordan Henderson to the bench, for Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana. Burnley were unchanged.
With a trip to Munich in three days’ time, Liverpool would have been wise to start fast with their customary press and seek to kill the game off as early as possible.
Burnley sought to push the home side out wide by marking their central passing options. However, with the quality of Liverpool’s full-backs, this played into the Reds’ hands quite comfortably, despite the early hiccup.
As both Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood sought to pressure Fabinho, he dropped between Virgil Van Dijk and Joel Matip in order to build from a back three. This turned a 2 v 1 in Burnley’s favour to a 3 v 2 in Liverpool’s favour.
Burnley opted for a man-oriented press to stifle Liverpool’s build-up but left Robertson free as a passing option and space ahead of him to penetrate. This was a result of Burnley seeking to overload the side which Liverpool sought to attack down. Despite their attempts, Liverpool were often able to look up and switch to the full-back on the far side.
As Liverpool progressed from out wide, Burnley sought to press them against the touchline. But due to the space Burnley vacated on the opposite channel and the technical quality of the Reds’ midfield, Liverpool were consistently able to switch the play to either Alexander-Arnold or Robertson. Given the quality of their delivery; the Clarets’ should not have given them so much space.
Liverpool’s attacking shape repeatedly caused Burnley problems. The front three all occupied pockets in the half spaces between Burnley’s midfield and defensive line. This provided width for Robertson and Alexander-Arnold, as they drew Burnley players towards them which created space for Lallana and Wijnaldum to run into or overlap.
Again, we can see the Reds’ front three squeeze the Burnley defensive line and they are too narrow to mark the full-backs. Dwight McNeil and Jeff Hendrick did a poor job of picking them up.
Liverpool’s full-backs constantly provided a congested midfield with a wide passing option. Once either full-back received the ball, red shirts began making darting runs into the box.
Any reasonable space Burnley left behind their midfield was capitalised on by Liverpool’s front three. By making darting runs either side, Mane and Firmino split the defence leading to Liverpool’s first big chance.
Liverpool’s attacking intent was as clear as day, with the common denominator being the exploitation of Burnley’s narrow shape. Wijnaldum’s attacking run drew both McNeil and Taylor, leaving Salah free with space to cut in. While he was closed down quite quickly, Liverpool still managed to equalise after good link-up play down the right wing.
Liverpool’s dominance in wide areas was a result of their astute positioning and available passing options. Either Mane, Robertson and Lallana or Salah, Alexander-Arnold and Wijnaldum created a passing triangle on each side of the pitch. In addition to this, Firmino would either drop deep or swap positions with Salah or Mane and link up with a central midfielder and full-back.
With a side as well-known for counter-pressing as Liverpool, Burnley were naïve to dawdle in clearing. Hendrick laying the ball off outside his own box after winning possession was asking for trouble. The number of bodies Liverpool commit to attack in tandem with their generous positional spread of players meant Burnley should have cleared as soon as they could.
Liverpool’s expansive attacking shape meant that players were covering decent areas of the pitch whilst providing progressive passing options. Should Taylor press Alexander-Arnold, the latter could pass to the advancing Wijnaldum or Fabinho to progress play to an onrushing Salah. Or if Firmino were to drop to collect from Alexander-Arnold, this would drag Jack Cork, leaving space for Lallana to run in behind.
Liverpool’s front three continued to find joy between Burnley’s midfield and defensive lines. When one of the three forwards had the ball beyond Burnley’s midfield, the other two forwards made darting runs beyond the vulnerable defence. Often, these attacking runs are accompanied by either full-back or central midfielder.
Another intriguing feature of Liverpool’s shape was Wijnaldum. In order to provide a greater attacking presence out wide, Alexander-Arnold was free to go forward in the knowledge that Wijnaldum would marshal the space left behind. Additionally, this was to limit Burnley’s counter-attack, as 40% of Burnley’s attacks come down the left flank through McNeil.
Liverpool’s relentless attacking numbers meant Burnley were under the cosh during every Liverpool attack. One way which Liverpool exercised this superiority was by having Firmino drop to receive the ball between the lines and pick out one of many red shirts running into the box.
Liverpool’s use of their full-backs was key in their victory. All it took was one incisive pass between either of Burnley’s wide midfielder and full-back to release Alexander-Arnold or Robertson to fire in a cross for Liverpool to attack.
In a bid to steal the win from Liverpool, Burnley committed bodies forward. The open nature of the game late on meant that Liverpool and Burnley were exchanging attacking blows. However, Liverpool came out on top as Bardsley completely isolated his position, as Sturridge found Mane, who rounded the ‘keeper to clinch an important win.
Burnley’s reputation for being a resolute and defensively solid team has taken quite the beating. The Clarets have already shipped 18 more goals this season than in their entire 2017/18 campaign. That record is symptomatic of this result as three of Liverpool’s goals came from individual Burnley errors.
Many would have predicted that Burnley’s visit to Anfield would have been tricky for the home side. But Liverpool’s relentless use of width, onrushing midfield runners and positional interchangeability soiled those predictions.
While the scoreline flatters Burnley somewhat, Klopp will already have an eye on their Champions League game against Bayern Munich on Wednesday.
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