Winter games in the Premier League must feel like a series of tests for the teams. One after the other, the tests keep coming, until they suddenly stop. One last test awaits all the twenty teams and for some it comes less than 48 hours after the previous one ended. Two of those teams are Burnley and Liverpool. The Clarets host the Reds at 15:00 on the 1st of January, while both the teams finished their previous games at about 17:00 on the 30th of December. Both teams can at least be satisfied with what they achieved in 2017 and both will be keen to start 2018 brightly, albeit using different methods.
Burnley managed to notch up 23 points in the Premier League before the end of 2016. That in itself was quite an achievement for a just promoted side. This season, they have improved that tally significantly. At the end of 2017, they have notched up 34 points and are sitting seventh – just behind the Big Six, and seven points clear of Leicester City. The Clarets have been in a mixed sort of form in the recent game weeks, winning twice, losing twice and drawing thrice in the month of December. Two of those draws have been goal-less, while the third one was the 2-2 at Old Trafford on Boxing Day. Even by their own standards, they have lacked an edge upfront – scoring merely 4 goals in last seven games (all of December). It is thanks to their excellent defence that they could manage to win two games (home vs Watford and Stoke) out of those seven despite this lack of goals. Sean Dyche might want to add “more goals” to his side’s new year resolutions and then hope that they begin to work on it on the very first day.
Liverpool also have had a relatively very productive year in 2017. They did regress a little in terms of the league position and points – they were 2nd in the league with 43 points (in 19 games) at the end of 2016, while they are 4th with 41 points (in 21 games) at the end of 2017. However, their exploits in the Champions League group stages can make up for the league shortfall. More importantly, unlike last season, they have almost come out of the brutal winter schedule of Premier League undefeated. Although their performance against Leicester City in the previous game betrayed a little bit of fatigue, they still managed to beat the Foxes. Now, if they can put in one last heave and come out victorious at Turf Moor on the first, then Jurgen Klopp can rest easy for some time. But for that scenario to come true, his side has to show more urgency, application, and innovation on Monday than what they showed on Saturday.
- In all competitions, Burnley have played 117 games against Liverpool and have won 37, losing 52 and drawing 28. In the Premier League, they have played Liverpool 7 times and have won once and drawn once – the victory coming in the corresponding fixture last season, while the draw coming in the Anfield game earlier this season.
- In top-flight league matches, Burnley have hosted Liverpool 39 times, winning 19 of those games, losing 11 and drawing 9. In those top-flight games, the Clarets have outscored the Reds 63 goals scored to 54 conceded. However, in the Premier League era, the two sides have met only three times at Turf Moor and Burnley have only scored two goals (in the victory last season), while conceding five.
- Burnley have taken 6 points off the Big-Six teams in the Premier League this season. This is highest among the other 14 sides. Burnley have also never ended a calendar year at a higher position in the Premier League than what they achieved in 2017 – 7th position with 34 points.
Generally, it is believed that the best way to pin Liverpool down is by scoring against them and hence almost always the key players have been opposition’s forwards. But in the case of Burnley, their entire system is designed to defend. No one exemplifies this approach as much as the Clarets’ goalkeeper – Nick Pope. Burnley have conceded only 15 league goals in 2017-18 despite conceding 309 shots (80 on target). Pope has faced 68 of those 80 shots on target and has managed to save 57 of them – an 83.8% save rate. It is second only to David de Gea in the league. Whether a shot (on target) is taken at his goal from inside the box or outside, it has less than 20% chance of getting past Pope. If Burnley manage to take a point or three on Monday, Nick Pope will definitely play a key role for them.
Whenever Liverpool play a side that puts up a deep defence, the ability to shoot accurately from distance and the ability to thread through passes through tightly packed defences, become very significant. In this Liverpool side, there is no player better than Philippe Coutinho at those two attributes. Coutinho has taken 39 shots from outside the box (15 from inside the box) this season and scored 4 goals already. His xG from outside the box is just 1.37 but he has been beating odds of scoring from distance for several seasons now. Further, with 0.39 expected assists per 90 minutes, there is almost 40% chance of him creating a goal for one of his fellow forwards. Coutinho will play a key role in dealing with Burnley’s defence on Monday.
James Tarkowski served the third game of his three-match ban against Huddersfield and will be available on Monday. Stephen Ward and Chris Wood could both recover from their knee injuries but might not start against Liverpool. Tom Heaton and Robbie Brady remain sidelined due to their respective injuries.
Liverpool will not be able to field their latest signing – Virgil van Dijk on Monday as he gets registered on the 1st. They also got a scare about Salah’s fitness after the Leicester game. His fitness is being assessed as of now but it is possible that Klopp will rotate him out for Solanke or Sturridge. There are no new injuries but Klopp might rotate the midfield to include a couple from Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, Wijnaldum, and Adam Lallana to replace Emre Can and James Milner. Clyne, Henderson, and Moreno remain sidelined with their injuries.
The corresponding fixture last season showed the blueprint for all bottom-half teams on how to deal with Liverpool. Burnley had paltry amount of possession but punished Liverpool with the only two shots they had all game. But this Liverpool team’s attack is a bit more nuanced, especially if Salah is available. Further, at least three of the Fab Four are in great goal-scoring form. Thus, although Burnley will make it extremely tough for Liverpool to score, I expect the only goal or two to be scored on Monday to come from Liverpool. I do not see Burnley repeating their feat from last season. It should be a second successive well-fought win for Liverpool.
Burnley 0 – 2 Liverpool