Johnson Carragher Ayala Agger
Maxi Aquilani Babel
Gerrard 52’ 59’
Liverpool made hard work of it for far too long, but it ends 4-0, just like in the reverse fixture. Are we sure there's no way for Burnley to avoid relegation?
So much for needing an early goal before the home side’s confidence burgeoned and they punished a Liverpool team that’s simply awful away from home. Make no mistake, it was a nerve-wracking and massively unimpressive first half, but Gerrard ended the match within 15 minutes of the restart. It’s nice to be a two-man team again, especially since the previous “one man” is injured for the rest of the season.
An opening 10 minutes of Liverpool pressure, including three corners, were devoid of chances and the away side was increasingly bogged down as Burnley grew in confidence. Depressingly, it took 19 minutes for Liverpool to register a shot on goal – a Babel run and blast which failed to hit the target.
Meanwhile, Burnley created opportunities thanks to Liverpool’s tentative defense and a dangerous Martin Paterson. Fletcher headed over from eight yards out in the 27th, Johnson had to divert another brilliant Paterson cross behind in the 35th, and Cork should have scored two minutes from halftime, unmarked on Mears’ cross but heading straight at Reina.
Liverpool had a lone impressive spell around the half-hour mark, with Dowd blocking Gerrard's shot, another Gerrard chance smothered by Jensen after the captain controlled in the box (with a Mears handball shout in the process), and a wonderful flowing move between Gerrard, Maxi, and Aquilani cut out by Cort – but still couldn’t find a goal and didn’t really deserve one. Otherwise, the only other chance of the half was Babel’s tame back-post effort moments before the interval.
Gerrard made sure none of that mattered in the second frame. The half began with another Burnley chance, with Fletcher unable to take advantage of confusion between Agger, Ayala, and Reina, while an injury to Kuyt minutes later (replaced by Benayoun with Babel going up top) increased fears. But the captain soon ended all our worries.
His first may have had a massive slice of luck, deflecting off Cort after he steamed forward from Aquilani’s layoff. But the second was sheer class; a rose by any other name. Maxi’s ball over the top found Aqua, and his slip turned into the perfect set-up for a trademark Gerrard thunderbolt. 2-0, game over, finally.
After that, Liverpool were unsurprisingly content to soak up pressure and counter at pace. Burnley nearly pulled one back, with Dowd ignoring Fletcher’s handball in the build-up and Reina thankfully seeing the striker’s shot cannon off the foot of the far post, before Maxi got the goal he’s waited far too long for. Again, Benayoun to Aquilani set up the goal, with the Italian’s diagonal throughball taken brilliantly first-time by the winger, delightfully curling over a sprawling Jensen.
Liverpool rested Agger and Gerrard in the final 15 minutes, replaced by Lucas and Pacheco (with Johnson moving to left back and Mascherano to right), and it was Lucas who provided the day’s climax, a perfectly-weighted ball over the top to an onside Babel, sliding his shot under the keeper to ensure Burnley were memorably relegated with the last kick of the ball.
To be fair, referring to Liverpool as a one-man team dependent on Gerrard is a bit of poetic hyperbole. As unimpressive as Liverpool were in the first half, they turned it on as a team in the second. Liverpool needed its talisman to break the deadlock – few others looked like scoring – but Benayoun and Aquilani were key in both of his strikes.
The Italian provided three assists today – only the fifth player to accomplish that this season according to OPTA. Yes, he also cheaply gave the ball away too often, and thankfully, Burnley was unable to punish, but he’s trying things few others (only Benayoun, really) in the squad attempt. Yossi’s running from the left opened up more in Burnley’s half, especially with Babel pushing the backline deeper than Kuyt. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Babel up top, Benayoun on the left, and Kuyt on the right (if able to play) on Thursday. And once again, Reina was crucial, making saves whenever called upon, while Carragher made some last-ditch blocks. The shakiness in defense partly came from Ayala’s unfamiliar presence, but outside of one or two cheap fouls, the young (and surprisingly enormous) defender did well.
Stunningly, that was Liverpool’s first league away win of 2010, and that tidbit goes a long way in explaining the club’s Premiership standing. But tallying four gives Liverpool a better goal difference than the three clubs ahead of them, increasing the incredibly minuscule possibility of fourth. As often said at this stage of the season, a win is a win is a win. And more importantly, the four goals hopefully boost attacking confidence prior to a match where they'll need to score more than once.
Now do it again on Thursday, only with a bit more impetus in the first half.