The rot rumbles on at the home of the champions – their 68-game unbeaten run at Anfield has been ended by The Clarets from Lancashire. In what was a clumsy, toothless and lacklustre performance the Reds were justly punished on the night and their Premier League title retention credentials are looking bleak in the midwinter.
A return to the matchday squad came for Joël Matip, back from a knee injury, but fresh blood on the treatment table for Jürgen Klopp as captain Jordan Henderson has picked up a minor muscle strain, although not serious it was enough to rule him out of this fixture.
Liverpool peppered Nick Pope’s box for much of the first half with misplaced crosses that were either picked out of the sky by the England international keeper or fell into the path of Ben Mee who dealt with everything asked of him for the entirety of the game. The accuracy of Trent Alexander-Arnold’s crossing has come into question once again as he attempted 18 from open-play against Burnley with not one of them reaching their target.
A potential breakthrough was going to come from a mistake rather than a moment of brilliance and it almost came on the stroke of half time as Mee attempted a backpass on the halfway line to Pope but only put it in the path of returning striker to the starting line up Divock Origi. One-on-one with the goalkeeper and with Sadio Mané arriving in the box the options were open but the Belgian opted for a shot that would burst the back of the net and end the goal drought for his team.
Instead, Origi beat Pope but rattled the underside of the crossbar with the ball bouncing out of the six-yard box and upwards for the goalkeeper to gather. Truly the best chance of the game for either side and it was wasted spectacularly.
Half time: Liverpool 0-0 Burnley
No changes from either side at the break but on the stroke of half time, a fracas between Fabinho and Ashley Barnes landed the Brazilian in the book. Klopp and Sean Dyche had what appeared to be disagreements in the tunnel as the referee, Mike Dean, as the managers were engaged animated scenes that were more active and entertaining than the play taking place for the first 45 minutes from either side.
In the 51st minute, there was a shot on goal that came after Alexander-Arnold fired yet another cross into the feet of Mee. The ricochet fell into the feet of Liverpool’s number 66 who was able to pick out the bottom right corner of the net with his weaker left foot but Pope was down quick to make an impressive save who then had to kick the ball away for a corner to stop Mané from reaching the loose ball.
Ten minutes later it was the turn of Wijnaldum to charge through the midfield – skipping passed four Burnley players and running the best part of 60 yards upfield he set up Salah, a substitute in the second half, inside the penalty area whose first-time shot was into the bottom corner but once again stopped superbly by Nick Pope.
The chances were in Liverpool’s favour, the wind was in their sails for much of the second half but Burnley, like most teams who have faced Liverpool in the last month, were still in the game and in the 82nd minute, a half-cleared freekick was headered back into the box and into the path of Ashley Barnes.
Fabinho failed to stop Barnes or clear the second ball and the ball fell kindly into the path of the striker and as he got the first touch on the ball and Alisson came out and brought down the striker, Mike Dean had no choice but to award the penalty.
Barnes from the spot converts into the bottom right of the Anfield Road end goal and despite Alisson guessing the correct way, the amount of power and direction on the penalty gave Burnley the lead with under 10 minutes including stoppage time to play.
It may only take one second to score a goal, to quote the brilliant Brian Clough, but Liverpool could have played another entire 90 minutes and would still have failed to break down yet another resilient and organised side. Another goalkeeper has come up against the champions and kept a clean sheet in another stunning performance against Jürgen Klopp’s Merseyside marvels.
The question is though whether Liverpool can retain their champion status given their recent results and drop in form. Out of a possible 15pts in their last five Premier League fixtures, the Reds have only been able to get 3pts, all through draws.
With Manchester City hitting a top vein of form, defensively sound and still scoring goals without Sergio Agüero for much of the season thus far, it would appear that Liverpool will have to make serious changes to form and results fast if they are going to get back into the race.
Manchester United are their next opponent in the FA Cup and the Red Devils are still performing well. Logic and reason put them as the favourites going into the tie – Liverpudlians will hope that fortune and hope will have to prevail on Sunday to act as a sign of their season being able to be turned around.
Full time: Liverpool 0-1 Burnley
Liverpool: Alisson (5), Alexander-Arnold (4), Matip (6), Fabinho (5), Robertson (5), Oxlade-Chamberlain (5), Thiago (5), Wijnaldum (6), Shaqiri (5), Origi (4), Mané (6).
Subs used: Salah (6), Firmino (5), Minamino (n/a).
Burnley: Pope (8), Lowton (6), Tarkowski (7), Mee (8), Taylor (6), Brady (6), Westwood (6), Brownhill (6), McNeil (6), Barnes (7), Wood (5).
Subs used: Pieters (6), Guðmundsson (6).
Man of the match: Nick Pope.