31 December 2017

Liverpool at Burnley 01.01.18

10am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
1-1 (h) 09.16.17
2-1 Liverpool (h) 03.12.17
0-2 Burnley (a) 08.20.16
2-0 Liverpool (h) 03.04.15

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Leicester (h); 5-0 Swansea (h); 3-3 Arsenal (a)
Burnley: 0-0 Huddersfield (a); 2-2 United (a); 0-3 Tottenham (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 17; Firmino 9; Coutinho 7; Mané 4; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sturridge 2; Alexander-Arnold, Can, Henderson, Lovren, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Burnley: Wood 4; Barnes, Vokes 3; Arfield, Hendrick 2; Brady, Cork, Defour, Ward 1

Referee: Roger East (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Trent A-A Lovren Klavan Robertson
Alex O-C Wijnaldum Can Mané
Solanke Firmino

It's Liverpool's ninth game since the start of December. It's Liverpool second game in 48 hours. And Liverpool are playing a side that's given them – and more than a few others – fits over the last few meetings.

I literally have no idea how Liverpool will line up.

That Simon Mignolet will come back in is basically the only certainty. Some of those left out against Leicester – especially Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wijnaldum – are likely to come in. It'll probably be Alexander-Arnold rather than Gomez. Robertson and Can seemingly have to keep their places for lack of alternatives. Given how Klopp's rotated his center-backs lately, Klavan probably replaces Matip. Salah, who limped off late against Leicester, probably misses this game even if his injury's minor just given his workload over the last few weeks. Otherwise, *throws arms up in exasperation*.

One guess I will venture is the 4-4-2 formation. Burnley has stifled Liverpool's 4-3-3 well in each of the recent meetings, whether win, loss, or draw. This would be something different, would make Burnley have to mark differently than they've been able to in the past. The formation worked well away at the likes of West Ham and Stoke, although it admittedly stuttered against West Brom.

But it's still a guess. At least Liverpool have options. There are the changes guessed above. 4-4-2 or 4-3-3, or a little of both. Another start for Coutinho in midfield or the left rather than a rest. Lallana yet to start after returning from injury, like Coutinho capable of playing on the flank or in a three-man midfield. Both Solanke or even Ings could replace Firmino or play along with him.

Two games in two days is not ideal, especially with two matches a week for almost two months, but Liverpool are far more capable of coping than they were a year ago.

And Burnley haven't coped with the festive season as they'd have hoped. They're winless in four, with a decent 2-2 at United – albeit one where they lost a 2-0 lead – but also boring 0-0 draws at Brighton and Huddersfield, and an 0-3 whooping by Tottenham, failing to score in three of those four matches. Top scorer Chris Wood, along with Ward and Brady, will miss this match due to injuries incurred in December, although Tarkowski will return from suspension.

Unsurprisingly, an early Tottenham goal was crucial in that match, scoring in the seventh minute, frustrated by Burnley for the next hour but not allowing them counter-attack chances, then scoring two more when Burnley finally had to come out. That's similar to what Liverpool did against Southampton and Stoke in November. That's the template for tomorrow.

Of course, form hasn't really mattered when these sides have met over the last season and a half. There's the 0-2 loss at the start of last season, where Liverpool went behind to two first-half goals and ran headlong into Burnley's defensive wall. There's the 1-1 earlier this season, where Liverpool went behind but thankfully got a quick equalizer, but then ran headlong into Burnley's defensive wall. And there was a 2-1 win at Anfield last season, a match which looked a lot like yesterday's against Leicester, ugly but enough.

And yet Burnley remain seventh, only three points behind Arsenal and Tottenham, although both have a game in hand. Because Sean Dyche is somehow a wizard. They've been more impressive away than home this season – in contrast to last season – beating Chelsea and drawing with Tottenham and Liverpool, but they've still conceded just six goals at home this season. Only Liverpool and United have conceded fewer.

We'll probably see some rotation from Burnley, but as with Leicester, it's a small squad with fewer potential changes. Something like Pope; Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee, Taylor; Gudmundson, Cork, Defour, Arfield; Walters, Vokes. Barnes could go again up front, maybe Hendrick or Westwood in midfield, maybe Wells on the flanks. Maybe 4-1-4-1 rather than 4-4-1-1. Either way, they'll play deep, they'll look to soak up pressure, they'll look to counter, but they'll also run and harry and hassle when Liverpool are trying to transition from defense to attack in their own half, hoping Liverpool do a Liverpool, as Liverpool did at the start against Leicester.

One more match, then something like a return to normalcy. Or at least as normal as Liverpool ever are. At least we'll be down to one match a week rather than two or three.

January was the beginning of the decline last season, the winter of our discontent, with only one replay win against Plymouth Argyle in the month's nine matches. There will be fewer fixtures this month. Liverpool have a larger, better squad to deal with this winter's trials.

Liverpool have an opportunity to rectify last season's failings. Liverpool have an opportunity to keep the distance between Tottenham and Arsenal, and gain ground on United and Chelsea in this unbelievably tight race for next season's Champions League spots. Liverpool have an opportunity to start the new year as they finished the old, still unbeaten in the last 15 matches, and somehow we're angry about a third of those matches.

But Liverpool will have to do it against – ugh – Sean Dyche's Burnley.

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