Burnley 0 Liverpool 1
In a year when Jürgen Klopp has spent £50m on a forward, Liverpool seem to have gained a prolific scorer. Not Luis Diaz – or not yet, anyway – but Fabinho. Klopp’s title hopes may be faint but they could have been extinguished without his newly potent holding midfielder.
Fabinho’s fifth goal of 2022 reduced the gap to Manchester City to nine points; had it not been scored by the man who shields the back four, the temptation would have been to call it a poacher’s goal, scrambled in from half a yard and showing a predatory instinct associated more with strikers.
The importance of a clinical touch was underlined as Burnley lacked one. Their last 850 minutes of top-flight football have yielded them a mere three goals, just as they have a solitary league win at Turf Moor in more than a year.
One unwanted statistic ought to have changed and another could have done courtesy of a first half when they had the superior chances. And yet, thanks to Fabinho, Burnley went in with a deficit.
Unlike against Manchester United on Tuesday, there was no comeback. Their local derbies next season seem likelier to involve Wigan and Blackpool than Liverpool and United.
For Liverpool, however, it felt the definition of a hard-fought win. Troubled initially, they ended up triumphant. Unconvincing before the interval, when neither Virgil van Dijk nor Joël Matip looked particularly commanding, they played with greater authority after Fabinho struck.
While Klopp believes this is the strongest squad he has ever had at his disposal, he could be grateful a minor injury altered his best-laid plans. The initial intention was for Sadio Mané to be a substitute.
Promoted to start because of Diogo Jota’s dead leg, he proved the brightest of Klopp’s front three, taking the momentum he gained in the African Cup of Nations to a different continent and a very different climate. Diaz was spared a baptism of wind, rain and cold.
Even by Burnley’s standards, it was inclement weather. If the stereotype suggested it was scarcely a day for Brazilians, Fabinho proved otherwise. If his was the most prosaic of goals, it was also revealing. Liverpool are the division’s set-piece specialists and, when they struggled to create in open play, they forged two clear openings from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s dead-ball delivery and Mané’s elusiveness.
There were two saves from Nick Pope, but with a different consequence. When Mané met the right-back’s free kick with a half-volley, it thudded into Pope’s chest and rebounded to safety. When the winger stooped to head Alexander-Arnold’s corner, Fabinho stole in behind James Tarkowski to shoot. Pope saved, but the midfielder scored at the second attempt. After four goals in 142 games, this was his fifth in seven.
Apart from a Naby Keïta shot he clawed away, Pope was relatively untroubled. Along with a scuffed effort from the substitute Jota, the closest Liverpool came to a goal in open play was when Ben Mee almost turned Alexander-Arnold’s late cross into his own net. The visiting defence were subjected to a stiffer examination.
Burnley seemed to have regained their sense of purpose in the second half against United. Once again, they were awkward, aggressive, attritional opponents. There were points where it appeared the quintessential Burnley performance, save for the most important element: the finish.
If aspects of Wout Weghorst’s game suggest the giant Dutchman may be an upgrade on the departed Chris Wood, definitive judgments may be formed on the basis of their respective goal tallies. The former Wolfsburg forward’s wait for a first Burnley strike goes on after a golden chance was spurned. Liverpool were caught on the counter-attack after their corner. Ashley Westwood led it, Jay Rodriguez slid his strike partner in on goal and while Weghorst dinked his shot over Alisson, it was going wide even before Alexander-Arnold hacked it away. He was off target again later, drilling a half-volley past the post, after Connor Roberts’s ball over the top.
Rodriguez had ended an 11-month wait for a league goal against Manchester United but he proved profligate. When Van Dijk, who seemed disconcerted by the Burnley gales, turned Maxwel Cornet’s free kick into his path, Rodriguez’s touch was poor and Alisson saved, just as he had earlier denied Josh Brownhill. He was not the only Brazilian to prevail in Burnley. – Guardian