Burnley frustrate Liverpool with pressing, Can winner out of the blue
Burnley delivered an excellent tactical display to frustrate Liverpool for long spells at Anfield on Sunday, but succumbed to a late first-half equaliser and an excellent winner from Emre Can.
Sean Dyche played his hand perfectly over the first 45 minutes, as Burnley troubled the hosts with long passes. Attacking duo Andre Gray and Ashley Barnes stretched the backline and bullied defenders, with Barnes hitting a slick early opener.
The visitors also repelled Liverpool with their rigid 4-4-2 structure, in which hard-working wingers and well-positioned central midfielders pressed diligently and cut off passing angles in zones where key men lurked. Only on the stroke of half-time did Liverpool break through, Georginio Wijnaldum slamming home from a cross.
In the second half, cracks in Burnley's structure let Can belt in a 25-yarder, but a stale Liverpool offered little else and it was the visitors who threatened through set-pieces and throws lofted into the box, leaving Jurgen Klopp grateful to cling onto a 2-1 win.
Striking duo test Reds resolve
While Dyche is rarely portrayed as a tactical sophisticate, there is an art to his style of play too. Burnley wheeled out ancient weapons to great effect here, dispatching Barnes to battle Joel Matip and Gray to drag Ragnar Klavan out of position with runs out wide.
This was as predictable as it was awkward to stop. Within two minutes, Tom Heaton had hit a long ball that Barnes flicked on to Gray. Inside four minutes, Barnes had brought down another high delivery near the box that nearly led to something.
Down the right, Gray wanted to challenge the slower Klavan one-on-one, and kept running in behind James Milner for early passes -- particularly from right-back Matthew Lowton. One lofted pass set up precisely such a situation and earned a corner, while an even more dangerous one arrived on six minutes; Gray then crossed just too early for Barnes. Just a minute on, the former ran in behind the defence once more, but ruined a fine chance with a lifeless delivery towards Barnes.
"There was not too much football," said Klopp. "In this kind of play, Burnley may be the best team. They are used to everything; they fight for the first ball, have a really good formation for the second and run in behind for the third."
What Klopp might have added was that, out of the little football being played, Burnley engineered the finest move of the game. On seven minutes, Lowton made a clever move infield to receive the ball behind Philippe Coutinho, then curled a sublime pass towards the back post for Barnes to convert.
Burnley stay tight, press Mignolet
That opener should have triggered a furious response from Liverpool, but it didn't. Burnley remained comfortable. Rather than parking the bus, they often pushed up when Simon Mignolet had the ball, forcing the Belgian to go long. One might have thought Liverpool would try to play their way out against the worst travellers in the division, but that wasn't the case.
This enabled Burnley to scrap for more long balls. And when Liverpool did play it short, the visitors were well positioned.
Ostensibly Dyche's 4-4-2 should have made for a numerical disadvantage in midfield against Klopp's 4-3-3. But anchorman Can played too deep to really worry Burnley, while neither Matip nor Klavan posed problems in possession.
That meant the visitors could focus on shutting down the full-backs, and then harry Coutinho and Sadio Mane. "The shape, endeavour and framework of the side was very important," said Dyche.
Rigid shape blocks Mane, Coutinho
This created a positional conundrum that Liverpool never really solved. They produced one early half-chance from winning a second ball near Divock Origi (standing in for the injured Roberto Firmino), but otherwise Burnley disrupted their flow.
Dyche will have noted that Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana normally make runs out wide that enable Coutinho and Mane to move inside and attack the centre-backs. These situations usually emerge via moves down the flanks, before a pass infield triggers quick combinations near the box. To prevent this, Burnley shut down players out wide: Milner and Nathaniel Clyne were given little time and space, and any wide midfielder receiving the ball immediately had a rival breathing down his neck.
Whenever Liverpool did emerge down the flanks, Burnley moved their central midfielders out wide to screen their defenders and block passes infield. This positional work meant Mane hardly received a pass near the box before half-time, instead relying on bursts of pace to create half-chances, while Coutinho took up some decent positions but without threatening. By half-time, Origi, Coutinho and Mane had played the fewest passes out of Liverpool's outfield players. Neither had fired off a shot.
The Anfield crowd were thus relieved to see Origi swing in a cross that Wijnaldum hit home on the stroke of half-time. On the hour mark, Klopp hauled off Coutinho, before Can hit a screamer out of nowhere. Liverpool didn't produce much else until Mane tested Heaton a minute from time.
Liverpool survive second-half blitz
Neither Burnley mustered much from open play, but they did bombard the box with set-pieces. Particularly in the second half, they launched every set-play into the area, nearby throws included, and nearly scored when Barnes had a finish blocked from an excellent position. On other occasions, Mignolet did well to punch clear.
In the final 15 minutes, Klopp switched Liverpool into survival mode, turning to more defensive tactics and taking off Origi for Lucas. For his part, Dyche put on Robbie Brady and target man Sam Vokes for George Boyd and Gray. Deep into stoppage time, a long throw from Stephen Ward fell to Lowton, but he fired over.
"We need to make it happen," Dyche said in reference to another 'nearly game' and a record of two points on the road all season. "But if we play like that, we will make it happen."
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