It wasn’t the planned game to cover but the challenge to clear up how a newly promoted team with less than 20% possession could win 2-0 was too hard to refuse.
Burnley are a side that prefers a defensively organised and compact 4-4-2, home or away. During the 2014/15 season in England’s top flight, The Clarets conceded just 21 goals at home, which isn’t bad considering they finished 19th.
The club record signing of Belgian midfielder Steven Defour would add some technical qualities to a team littered with hard grafters.
Liverpool arrived with offensive optimism and defensive trepidation after their 4-3 win at Arsenal last week. Their preference to attack in a 4-3-3 filled with talented footballers was expected to be enough for The Reds to claim another three-points. The timely arrival of Daniel Sturridge helped offset the disappointment of Sadio Mane’s short-term injury.
James Milner also returned following an injury picked up during pre-season. The versatile Englishman replaced Alberto Moreno at left-back after the Spaniard came in for heavy criticism during his first half display at The Emirates.
Burnley’s game plan appeared to be focused on limiting the space in their penalty area while encouraging crosses from Liverpool’s left side. In attack, Sam Vokes would act as the target man with the stocky Andre Gray feeding off the Welsh striker and often using his pace to run the channels.
Liverpool hoped to dominate the ball and utilise the late runners from midfield. All three central midfielders – Adam Lallana, Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson – like to arrive into the opposition box from deep, while Sturridge would drift in from the right.
For many, the first goal was going to be vital. If Liverpool scores it, then Burnley will have to be more expansive in search of an equaliser. If the home side opens the scoring, then they can tighten up their defence with extra emphasis on set pieces and counter-attacks.
First blood went to Burnley as Gray capitalised on Nathaniel Clyne’s loose pass before finding strike partner, Vokes, just outside Liverpool’s area. The former Bournemouth striker put Dyche’s side into a second minute lead as he turned and shot past Simon Mignolet.
This triggered the tightening defence; while Liverpool looked to regain composure knowing there was plenty of time remaining.
Despite often getting into decent crossing positions, particularly down the left, Jurgen Klopp’s men would find eight Burnley bodies defending their goal.
Unlike Swansea, who won 1-0 at Turf Moor, Liverpool didn’t have much of an aerial threat or plan B. The Swans had Fernando Llorente as their focal striker and it was the Spaniard’s header that was parried into the path of Leroy Fer for last week’s winner.
After 37 minutes, Gray doubled Burnley’s lead following a direct counter-attack. The former Brentford forward received the ball from Defour, stepped inside a couple of limp tackles and beat Mignolet with a low left-footed shot.
Suddenly they had a cushion and more reason to sit back, defend deep and relinquish the majority of possession and attacking ambition.
RUTHLESS v TOOTHLESS
By the time the home side had scored with their first two efforts on goal, Liverpool had racked up nine with just one on target. Philippe Coutinho was often trying his luck from distance while Adam Lallana found three of his four attempts blocked by some desperate and determined defending. In fact, over 30% of Liverpool’s total shots were blocked, a stat that credits the attitude and team spirit of Dyche’s players.
The Reds ended the game with 26 attempts (five on target) to Burnley’s three (two on target). Seventeen of Liverpool’s 26 efforts were from outside the 18-yard box, eight of which were contributed by Coutinho and his wayward right-foot. This is further evidence of Burnley’s deep defending and Liverpool failing to find a way through due to a lack of patience and/or tempo in their passing.
Burnley probably didn’t plan to give up so much possession but the timing of the goals dictated this approach for a squad that has its understandable limitations. Liverpool completed 312 from 370 passes in the final third while Burnley could only manage 30 from 68.
The Clarets overall passes came in at 130 from 210 (62% completion) compared to Liverpool’s 765 from 848 (90.2%). Yet Klopp’s side couldn’t muster one big chance and only tested Burnley’s Tom Heaton on five occasions.
It comes as no surprise then that not one Burnley player achieved more passes than any of Liverpool’s starting XI. In fact, Burnley’s top passer was goalkeeper Heaton.
CROSSING V CLEARANCES
Burnley’s willingness for Milner to have space down the left was evident by the amount of crosses attempted on that side. Of Liverpool’s 23 crosses, 19 were from the left but Burnely’s defence was more often than not prepared for these crosses such was the success rate and location of their clearances.
Only seven clearances from 30 were attempted outside of the penalty box. The majority (19 from 23) was attempted in the half nearest to Liverpool’s attacking left.
On occasions, the Burnley defence was afforded more time to establish their positions when Milner, the makeshift left-back, opted to cut back onto his favoured right-foot.
The early goal played a vital role in the outcome of this game. The fact it was triggered by an uncharacteristic error makes it even harder to accept for Liverpool. But The Reds fell foul of failing to alter their attacking approach or be as ruthless with their finishing as they were last week.
Burnley deserve a great deal of credit for this victory as the team ran 5km more than their opponents to bridge the gulf created by both clubs’ respective financial positions and squad depth.
Mane might have made a difference by increasing the tempo and offering a pacey outlet on the wings, but the team Klopp put out still had enough to win this match.
Given the possession and shot stats, this game would have resulted in a very different outcome nine times out of ten. But the hard work, organisation and discipline is needed in abundance for that one time to come off and any luck that is forthcoming is normally earned.
The competitive nature of this league will probably see Liverpool enjoy greater success away to Tottenham next Saturday. Burnley, meanwhile, take on Chelsea and will likely need a similar approach to come away from Stamford Bridge with at least a point.
EPL Results (Gameweek 2):
Man Utd 2-0 Southampton
Stoke 1-4 Man City
Burnley 2-0 Liverpool
Swansea 0-2 Hull
Tottenham 1-0 Crystal Palace
Watford 1-2 Chelsea
West Brom 1-2 Everton
Leicester 0-0 Arsenal
Sunderland 1-2 Middlesbough
West Ham 1-0 Bournemouth