19 August 2016

Liverpool at Burnley 08.20.16

10am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
2-0 Liverpool (h) 03.04.15
1-0 Liverpool (a) 12.26.14
4-0 Liverpool (a) 04.25.10
4-0 Liverpool (h) 10.12.09

Last match:
Liverpool: 4-3 Arsenal (a)
Burnley: 0-1 Swansea (h)

Referee: Lee Mason

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Lovren Klavan Milner
Can Wijnaldum
Lallana Firmino Coutinho

With Sadio Mané almost certainly out due to a slight shoulder injury, Liverpool have two options: either the same formation as at Arsenal, with Can coming into midfield and Lallana shifting into attack, or a switch to 4-2-3-1 with either Sturridge or Origi up front, Lallana-Firmino-Coutinho in the line of three, and two from Wijnaldum, Henderson, and Can in midfield.

This, much more than last week's match, will be evidence of how determined Klopp is to use a 4-3-3 formation this season. On paper, it's a match seemingly better suited for a 4-2-3-1. Liverpool will have a lot more of the ball. Liverpool will need less of the breaking-the-lines counter-attack from midfield, with less emphasis on pressing in midfield. Liverpool will need more cutting edge up front: attackers capable of going around and through a resilient defense and single-handedly creating and scoring chances when there are seven or eight opposition players behind the ball.

But 4-3-3 has seemed the preferred formation so far this short season, and I wouldn't necessarily be surprised to see it again, with Sturridge/Origi again left out, or with one as the central striker, Firmino moving to the right, and three from Lallana, Wijnaldum, Henderson, and Can in midfield.

The other line-up question is, unsurprisingly, at left back. Will it be Milner or Moreno? Too many pixels, too many words, too much ink has been written, said, and spilled about Moreno's performance last week. We know it wasn't good, but it also wasn't as bad as made out. And in a match like tomorrow's should be, Liverpool could need his pace and width. But Milner's fit again, and, yes, Moreno wasn't good last week. Milner's steadier, Milner's a better crosser, and Milner can get up and down the pitch as well, if not as quickly. We need to see what Milner's capable of in this position if he's going to be used there with any regularity this season, and tomorrow's match should be a decent opportunity to do so.

Jöel Matip's also back from injury (while Sakho and Lucas aren't far off), but I'd be surprised if he takes the place of either Klavan or Lovren. I suspect his first appearance will be Liverpool's cup tie at Burton Albion next Tuesday.

Burnley struggled at home against Swansea on opening day, a tepid 0-1 loss with the visitors scoring late. Less possession, worse passing, and seven fewer shots, despite being on their own ground, and being a newly-promoted side looking to impress against what might be one of their rivals for relegation. The loss was Burnley's first in a league match since December 2015, finishing the second half of their Championship-winning campaign unbeaten. Welcome back to the Premier League.

That said, basically all of Burnley's chances came from either set plays or counter-attacks, even though they were at home, even though they were against Swansea. And we all know how much Liverpool love messing up at least one of those opportunities in matches that Liverpool are supposed to win.

Burnley's XI will pretty much be the same as last week's. Heaton; Lowton, Keane, Mee, Ward; Boyd, Marney, Defour, Arfield; Gray, Vokes. The only change is in midfield: record signing Steven Defour replacing recently sold David Jones. Jon Flanagan is, of course, ineligible due to the terms of his loan.

It'll be 4-4-2, it'll be two compact lines of four, it'll be reliant on keeping Liverpool out and hoping Andre Gray or Sam Vokes can conjure something on the break. Gray scored 23 goals last season, and had chances last week. He just couldn't take them. That probably won't last.

More than half of Burnley's likely XI were a part of the sides which faced Liverpool in 2014-15. Which twice lost to Liverpool in 2014-15 without scoring. Both of those games were too close for comfort, both saw Burnley defend reasonably well, but both saw Burnley struggle to create anything in Liverpool's half, with one shot on-target (from 26 in total) over 180 minutes.

Don't do anything dumb in defense, and prove that this is a better attack than we saw in away matches where Liverpool were heavily favored last season. We still remember the 0-2 at Newcastle and at 0-3 Watford, the 1-3 at Swansea and 1-1 at West Brom.

Last week was a tremendous, if unnecessarily frightening, way to start the campaign. But this will be an entirely different challenge than last week, one which has often been harder for Liverpool to navigate.

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