03 March 2015

Liverpool v Burnley 03.04.15

2:45pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports Live Extra

Last four head-to-head:
1-0 Liverpool (a) 12.26.14
4-0 Liverpool (a) 04.25.10
4-0 Liverpool (h) 09.12.09
0-1 Burnley (a, FA Cup) 01.18.05

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 City (h); 0-1 Besiktas aet (a); 2-0 Southampton (a)
Burnley: 0-1 Swansea (h); 1-1 Chelsea (a); 1-3 United (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Gerrard, Sterling 6; Coutinho, Lallana, Own Goal 4; Henderson 3; Lambert, Markovic, Moreno, Sturridge 2; Balotelli, Borini, Can, Johnson, Skrtel 1
Burnley: Ings 9; Barnes 5; Boyd 4; Arfield, Mee 2; Kightly, Wallace 1

Referee: Mark Clattenburg

Guess at a line-up:
Can Skrtel Sakho
Markovic Henderson Allen Moreno
Lallana Coutinho

Hopefully Sakho will be fit enough to return, hopefully Sturridge will be fit enough to start. Otherwise, it's tough to see many changes to Liverpool's XI.

If Sturridge starts, it's likely that one of Lallana, Sterling, or Coutinho begins on the bench. Coutinho, considering the form he's in, certainly won't be left out. I'd suggest a rest for Sterling, simply because he's played almost every minute of every match since returning from his personal winter break, and is most likely to change the game as a substitute: the fastest of the four, able to alter proceedings from multiple positions. With Ibe out for the next month, Rodgers may want to give Lallana (or, less likely, Sterling) a run at wing-back, but I suspect that'll remain more of a mid-game, post-substitutions occurrence.

Otherwise, the team writes itself. Henderson and Allen in midfield. Moreno at left wing-back, either Can/Skrtel/Sakho or Can/Skrtel/Lovren in defense. Plus ça change...

Liverpool's home matches against bottom-half sides have been nothing short of disastrous this season. 2-1 over West Brom in early October remains the only victory, with draws against Everton, Hull, Sunderland, and Leicester, and a loss to Aston Villa. Granted, only one of those matches came after the switch to 3-4-2-1, and can be "justified" by the two crazy minutes which gave Leicester their point, but it's still a worrisome statistic. And one which demonstrates the difficulty that these team has had breaking down deep, resilient defenses. After beating Tottenham, Southampton, and Manchester City, Liverpool simply cannot fall at this hurdle.

Meanwhile, Burnley have been reasonably competent on the road. Well, that might be pushing, but they're at least better than 18th place with just 22 points suggests, especially against the bigger sides. They've earned draws at City and Chelsea since the turn of the New Year, and played a 1-3 loss at United that was a lot closer than the scoreline suggests. Yes, Burnley have won just once in the last 11 league matches, a 1-0 home victory over QPR, but not a single one of those matches has been easy for the opposition.

Dean Marney's the only Burnley player who'd feature if fit, but will miss tomorrow's match through injury. Burnley rotate less often than any other side in the division, despite their minuscule squad, and I'd be surprised if tomorrow's XI deviated from Heaton; Trippier, Shackell, Keane, Mee; Kightly, Jones, Boyd, Arfield; Ings, Barnes. That's been the XI for the last three matches, ever since Marney's injury. But Burnley's 4-4-2 will be very different from City's. More specifically, Burnley's midfielders can't, won't allow Coutinho and Lallana/Sterling the space between the lines that City provided. Burnley will sit deep, deny space, and live and die by the counter-attack and set plays. Which might well be an argument for Lallana at wing-back and Sturridge, Sterling, and Coutinho in attack. Get as many tricky, fluid players on the pitch as possible.

You know who to watch. Danny Ings, Burnley's top scorer, heavily rumored for a Liverpool transfer this summer. Ashley Barnes, Burnley's second-top scorer, locus of controversy in the draw at Chelsea. Combined, Barnes and Ings are responsible for 14 of Burnley's 25 goals this campaign.

Burnley gave Liverpool an incredibly difficult match on Boxing Day, the beginning stages of Liverpool's 3-4-2-1 revolution. They pinned Liverpool back, heavily out-shot Liverpool – 16 to 10, the third largest disparity in the opposition's favor this season – but failed to put any of those 16 shots on target before failing to Sterling's goal from Coutinho's so-delicious-it-had-to-be-fattening assist. Liverpool fans are well aware that bad things happen when you don't take your chances. Burnley are combative, Burnley are physically fit, and Burnley go down swinging.

After tomorrow, Liverpool will have just one game a week for the rest of the season (barring any FA Cup replays or rearrangements, of course). Liverpool are unbeaten in 11 league matches. Liverpool just took nine points out of nine from teams that were ahead of them in the table. Liverpool's squad is filling out: Sturridge returning to fitness, Sakho returning tomorrow or on the weekend, Gerrard just a week or so away, Lucas and Flanagan supposedly not far behind. Liverpool are two points from fourth, three points from third, with 11 games to play (including matches against both of the sides directly ahead of them in the table). Liverpool are damn close to where they want to be.

Just keep the momentum going.

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