Johnson Carragher Skrtel Insua
Benayoun Kuyt Riera
Benayoun 27’ 61’ 82’
Perfect. No complaints. I had hoped it’d be similar to Stoke, and it’s the exact same result. Four goals (and Liverpool should have had more), a clean sheet (with no frights from set plays), a Benayoun hat-trick, and the ability to rest players like Johnson, Kuyt, and Torres (plus a Degen sighting!) with the Champions League on Wednesday.
It’s only Burnley (no disrespect meant, but they were always going to struggle once the first went in), but Gerrard sitting deeper has given me, and hopefully Benitez, something to think about. That was a comprehensive, dominating performance.
It’s not that Gerrard in central midfield was all the difference – in fact, I thought he didn’t have enough influence in the first half, although he was utterly superlative in the second as the game opened up. But Benayoun and Kuyt (and Riera to a lesser extent) were outstanding. We’ve seen that Gerrard can be effective wherever he plays on the pitch, and the interplay between Benayoun, Kuyt, and Riera was excellent, leading to the two first half goals that put the game out of reach.
It was a rocky opening five to ten minutes, with a couple of embarrassing giveaways in Liverpool’s half and a Paterson effort from the top of the box not far wide, but once Liverpool got on top, they always looked likely to score. It started with probing shots from distance against a deep backline, but Benayoun almost opened it in the 23rd, rising highest between two defenders to head Insua's cross narrowly wide.
And, unsurprisingly, it was Benayoun slotting coolly four minutes later after a mazy run, turning Graham Alexander inside out following Johnson’s throughball. Liverpool could have had a second within five minutes – Benayoun’s diving header and Kuyt’s rebound both saved in the 29th were the best during a spell of chances – but Burnley got back into it for about five minutes starting around the 35th.
However, a Liverpool break in the 41st following a Burnley corner (delightfully started by Torres), put that notion to rest. Torres’ clearance found Benayoun in so much space he had time for a conversation with Gerrard before deciding to shoot. Jensen sloppily parried the effort, and Kuyt was on-hand, although arguably offside. No matter.
Liverpool patiently dominated the second half until Burnley’s legs ran out, and then put them to the sword. The imminent third came in the 61st when Torres found Gerrard striding into the box; the ball was behind him, but the captain somehow collected and centered for a wide-open Benayoun.
Yossi should have had his hat-trick in the 72nd, tapping in the rebound from Gerrard’s free kick, but it was ruled out – a certain make-up call for the Kuyt goal. Two minutes late, Gerrard rounded the keeper after another lovely run but could only hit the post from a narrow angle.
No matter. Benayoun earned the matchball in the 82nd after a gorgeous one-touch move between Riera, Yossi, Gerrard, and Voronin ended with the Israeli beating the offside trap. Liverpool should have added a fifth, with Jensen brilliantly saving Gerrard’s curler in the 86th before Voronin fouled up a one-on-one (placing a tame shot wide with time and space to round the keeper), but Burnley were well-beaten regardless.
Seeing the way the three linked up behind Torres makes me wonder if this might be the best way of getting all the attackers involved. Gerrard as a support striker has gotten the best out of Gerrard and Torres, but if Benayoun and Kuyt can play as they did today, Liverpool might be better as a whole, especially with Alonso gone.
Benayoun was easily the biggest beneficiary. Since the end of last season, he’s been Peter Beardsley reincarnated, but this was probably his best game for the club, and it saw his third hat-trick (his first in the league). But I can praise every player’s performance. Carragher also had his best game of the season, ably marshaling the defense and preventing almost every Burnley half-chance. Gerrard was rampant in the second half, playing much higher up the pitch with the pressure off. Both Lucas and Insua were steady after coming into question.
Admittedly, Lucas would usually be the one to lose out if this formation were to become a constant fixture, and I’m not succumbing to the ‘Lucas out’ brigade – you’ve seen how often I defend the player. He rarely put a foot wrong today, and it’s not as if Masch has been any great shakes so far this season. But Masch is a more natural partner for Gerrard in this system against most teams, and if it makes Liverpool’s better, it makes Liverpool better. End of discussion.
If Mascherano really picked up a knock while on duty for Argentina, we may well see this line-up and formation again against Debrecen on Wednesday. More of the same would be just fine.