Dave Thornley reflects on a decent Burnley performance at Anfield, which sadly brought no reward for the Clarets.
Few clubs harness supporter involvement and sentiment with quite as much aplomb as Liverpool and yesterday’s fixture against Burnley, the first at Anfield since the pandemic closed its gates was one in which the club and its fans were determined to pull out all the stops, and twang hard on the emotional heartstrings.
To this end, Burnley were always going to be cast in the role of sacrificial lambs; ushered out onto the pitch ahead of the home team to face the massed ranks of fans giving a full-throated rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, a pre-match ritual as cliched as the All-Blacks’ Haka, but a powerful one nonetheless.
No doubt most of those present were anticipating a display from the Reds akin to a matador toying with an increasingly disorientated and helpless animal before administering a less than merciful ending.
What they saw instead was a properly contested game of football, in which Burnley engaged vigorously and with no little skill. Too vigorously it seemed for Jurgen Klopp whose post-match interview comprised of a series of snide innuendos about what he perceived to be Burnley’s over-physical approach and the need for the officials to protect his players from the harm that might befall them. It was never that sort of game, full-blooded, yes, but at no point did it ever over-step the line.
Before he became manager of Liverpool, Bill Shankly cut his managerial teeth at Carlisle United, Grimsby Town, Workington Town and Huddersfield; prior to that, his playing career was spent as a tough tackling wing half in the service of Preston North End, his job being to win the ball and give it to Tom Finney. By the time he arrived at Anfield, he was time-served and battle-hardened in the rough and tumble of lower league English football.
Was he around today, Shanks may well find that he had less in common with the current incumbent of his old job than that of Burnley’s Sean Dyche, another who was formed from the buffeting he received at a succession of the domestic game’s less glamorous outposts? Like Dyche, Shankly was brought up to relish a hard tackle and embrace the physicality of the game
There was little dispute that Liverpool deserved to win and did so through goals from Diogo Jota in the first half and Sadio Mane in the second; but with a little more composure and a tad more luck, Burnley might well have emerged with something more tangible to show for their efforts.
Dwight McNeil was as purposeful and threatening yesterday as he had been careless in last week’s home game against Brighton; Chris Wood saw a header saved and McNeil struck the woodwork albeit in a move originating in an offside position.
Ashley Barnes found the back of the Liverpool net early in the second half after a jinking run and cross from Matt Lowton, but he too had strayed offside; a recurring nuisance which all Burnley’s striker seem to be guilty of.
As Liverpool lifted the tempo and applied pressure in the second half, Burnley responded with their traditional cussedness, heading away crosses, winning tackles and blocking shots. Save for Mane’s splendidly worked goal, it was successful.
Despite the defeat, this was all-in-all a more uplifting performance from the Clarets than last weeks. An indication that on the pitch at least things might not be so bad after all.
Off the pitch it is a different matter as the search for new recruits grows increasingly desperate. There is a persistent and increasing feeling that the prospect of bringing in the sort of talent that can tilt a Premier League game on its axis has disappeared and even the likelihood of rounding out the squad with a few solid journeymen is looking more and more remote.
Many others have discussed this with greater insight and authority than I could muster, so I don’t intend to dwell on the subject save to point out that this isn’t what the new owners promised. Were they naïve or foolhardy in articulating those assurances? They have just over a week in which to justify their rhetoric.
Thanks for the input Dave, great review as usual. (TEC.)