11 March 2017

Liverpool v Burnley 03.12.17

12pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
0-2 Burnley (a) 08.20.16
2-0 Liverpool (h) 03.04.15
1-0 Liverpool (a) 12.26.14
4-0 Liverpool (a) 04.25.10

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-1 Arsenal (h); 1-3 Leicester (a); 2-0 Tottenham (h)
Burnley: 2-3 Swansea (a); 1-1 Hull (a); 0-1 Lincoln (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Mané 12; Firmino 9; Lallana 7; Coutinho, Milner 6; Origi, Wijnaldum 4; Can 3; Lovren, Sturridge 2; Henderson, Matip 1
Burnley: Gray 8; Vokes 5; Hendrick, Keane 2; Barnes 4; Arfield, Barton, Boyd, Brady, Gudmundsson, Marney, Mee, Ward 1

Referee: Craig Pawson

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Matip Lovren Milner
Lallana Can Wijnaldum
Mané Origi Coutinho

I still have night-sweat terror flashbacks to Liverpool's last match against Burnley. I imagine most of us do.

So it's less than encouraging that Liverpool are going into this game with more injury concerns. Firmino's doubtful after picking up a problem against Arsenal, almost certainly joining Henderson and Sturridge on the sidelines. Henderson and Sturridge are also the last two Liverpool players to score against Burnley, the two finding the net in Liverpool's 2-0 Anfield win in March 2015.

At least Dejan Lovren's back?

Divock Origi up front is obviously a different proposition to Firmino. Firmino's pressing isn't as crucial in matches like these, but his interplay with Mané and Coutinho certainly is, as well as his creativity and ability in tight spaces. Origi will have a hell of a task on his hands. Ideally, as he's such a different option, he'll pose Burnley a much different threat than Firmino, unbalancing a usually resilient defense.

Firmino's struggled in Liverpool's losses, his only goals the two that nearly saw a comeback against Swansea, but unimpressive the last times these sides met and actually poor against Bournemouth, Hull, and Leicester. Meanwhile, Origi's league goals have come against the likes of Sunderland, Bournemouth, West Ham, and Boro.

Only Boro was a comprehensive team performance, but all four came in matches where Liverpool needed a flat-track bully. All four were necessarily goals, two wins, a draw, and an unnecessary loss where others contrived to stupidly stupidly stupidly throw away points at Bournemouth. Hopefully, that flat-track trend continues tomorrow. Because Burnley. Sigh. Burnley. Still that trauma from when these sides first faced in the second match of the season, at Turf Moor, with Liverpool riding high after a 4-3 opening day win at Arsenal.

It was a harbinger of ill to come. Two bad moments in defense: a giveaway error leading to a goal, then a cut-through-the-middle counter, both in the first half. Liverpool's attack throwing itself against a deep brick wall time and time and time and time again, and frustratedly failing. It was Sunderland and Swansea and Hull and Leicester before those matches happened.

Now, Burnley surprisingly sit 12th, despite being winless in their last five, three losses and two draws, including an FA Cup exit to Lincoln City. They're only five points off ninth but only four and goal different off 16th.

Because Burnley are more schizophrenic than ever Liverpool.

Burnley have the joint-fourth best record in the league at home: nine wins, two draws, and just three losses. Only Tottenham, Chelsea, and Liverpool have won more points at home.

Burnley have the worst record in the league away from home: no wins, two draws, and 11 losses.

It says a lot about this Liverpool season that seems more a challenge than an opportunity. As does the fact that Burnley haven't scored at Anfield since 1975.

But also don't read too much into Burnley's record. Whether home or away, Burnley still Burnley. It's 4-4-2. It's a deep, well-organized defense despite averaging more than two-goals-conceded per game on their travels. Most of the big away losses have come against their peers: 0-3 Leicester, 0-4 West Brom, 1-3 Southampton. Matches at Arsenal, City, and Tottenham were all fairly close 2-1 defeats, while they held Manchester United 0-0 at Old Trafford.

Burnley will still Burnley.

Burnley's XI will be missing at least two players who started in the win over Liverpool last August: the central midfield of Marney and Defour, both out injured. As is Gudmundsson, who replaced Defour in that fixture. Tomorrow's midfield will feature two from three players signed since these sides last met: Jeff Hendrick, Joey Barton, or Ashley Westwood.

Barton's available after a recent hamstring injury, as is Tom Heaton after illness kept him out of the last match. Jon Flanagan's obviously ineligible, on loan from Liverpool. The only other line-up question will be up front, whether Ashley Barnes or Sam Vokes partners Andre Gray. Heaton; Lowton, Keane, Mee, Ward; Boyd, Hendrick, Barton, Brady; Gray, Barnes.

Incidentally, the back four will be the exact back four which held Liverpool scoreless last August.

So once again, Liverpool are coming off an encouraging win over Arsenal. Burnley are coming off a damaging defeat to Swansea. Liverpool are favored. Liverpool need to win.

This will be a bigger test than Arsenal was. This will be a stronger sign of what's to come over the next three months as Liverpool chase a top-four spot.

This is where Liverpool need to prove the past few months are actually, definitively in the past.

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