Liverpool’s Premier League win over Burnley on Friday was neither pretty nor encouraging. However, it was utterly necessary.
Liverpool trudged through 90 minutes of Boxing Day soccer, impressing few, if anyone, with a flat performance. Yet, Liverpool somehow left Turf Moor with a 1-0 win and three more points in the standings. Liverpool fans were hoping for a vintage show from their team in the holiday season. This wasn’t one of them, but the outcome will matter more than the performance as time marches on.
The result keeps ninth-place Liverpool in the top half of the Premier League standings after the first of three games it plays in quick succession. Liverpool still is aiming for a top-four finish, and the festive-period games will be pivotal in determining its final position.
Raheem Sterling scored the game’s only goal in the second half when he rounded goalkeeper Tom Heaton and finished one of the few goal-scoring chances Liverpool created. Sterling now is justifying the faith manager Brendan Rodgers has in his ability to lead Liverpool’s attack.
Sterling’s goal was decisive, but Burnley’s lack of a killer instinct was equally important to the result. The hosts dominated possession and territory in the first half but failed to convert the host of chances they created or Liverpool gifted them.
Striker Danny Ings came closest when he breezed past defender Martin Skrtel and shot off the post in the first half. Teammate Ashley Barnes should have scored on the rebound, but he shot over the crossbar from close range. It was one of those familiar afternoons for the Premier League’s lowest-scoring team.
Brad Jones started at goalkeeper for Liverpool, but his four-game run in the lineup looks to have come to an end. Jones suffered a thigh injury in the first half, and Simon Mignolet returned to the so-called line of fire.
Mignolet’s short time on the bench hasn’t restored his confidence and the Belgian hasn’t made the necessary improvements to his game. Mignolet flapped at crosses, his distribution was average and his focus was lacking at times. Liverpool’s defense appeared as confused as ever (in front of both goalkeepers, to be fair). Thankfully, Burnley simply couldn’t score.
Liverpool’s win takes it forward, but its performance was a significant backward step. Lost was the defensive intensity, attacking verve and large-scale chance creation the Reds showed against Arsenal, Bournemouth and Manchester United. The Reds’ attacks broke down through careless giveaways, and they committed a number of individual mistakes when defending. Burnley might have punished those errors on another day, and a better team would profit from the Reds’ lapses everyday.
Yet the difference between Liverpool claiming three undeserved points and leaving rewards on the table (as it did against Arsenal and Manchester United) came down to one moment of magic from Philippe Coutinho, whose no-look pass set up Sterling, and the budding star who is rediscovering his groove. Liverpool isn’t in position to choose how it wins games. For now, victories are all that matters for Rodgers and the Reds.
Thumbnail photo via LiverpoolFC.com