The Premier League race is looking tighter than ever, as Liverpool sit atop the table, but very tenuously so. The Reds are just two points ahead of Manchester City, who could go top just by winning their game in hand, and while Arsenal and Liverpool have both played 23 games, the Gunners are also just two points behind after a huge head-to-head win.
Every single match is crucial as we hurtle towards the end of the season, and the Klopp era at Anfield, so even a match with 19th-place Burnley deserves our full attention.
Let’s take a look at some of the key factors that could determine the result as a relegation-doomed side visits the league leaders.
Top of the Pitch
Of course, the focus heading into this match will be around the status of Liverpool legend Mo Salah, who could be set to return from an injury sustained during AFCON.
Salah’s return would likely just be in a reserve capacity, especially in a game the team should be able to win without him, but independent of the match result itself, it would be tremendous to see Salah, the league’s top goal scorer, fit to play and running around again.
With or without Salah on the pitch, the attack is going to need to be better than it was against Arsenal. The Reds owned the ball for 57% of the match and shot 10 times, but scored just once on an own goal while generating only 0.37 xG and no big chances.
The front line of Luis Díaz, Diogo Jota and Cody Gakpo simply did not work, as the x-factor of Darwin Nunez was sorely missed; don’t expect Klopp to make that mistake again.
Even with all of Darwin’s finishing woes, he pushes the pace and reshapes the defense in a way that nobody else on Liverpool’s side, save for a healthy Salah, can do- expect him to be back in the XI for this home match.
They’ll be facing a Burnley back line that has allowed the second-most goals in the Premier League, but interestingly enough, just the seventh-most xG.
This could be an indictment on keeper James Trafford, but he’s one of the team’s highest-graded players, especially among defenders. Liverpool’s front line should be able to really hammer away at this group, and pick up some much-needed confidence after a brutal showing in London.
Last match saw the return of Thiago, but he only played about 10 minutes before picking up another knock; he’s out once more.
Alexis Mac Allister was the lone bright spot against Arsenal, but there’s good news- help should be on the way. Wataru Endō returned to Liverpool training after his Japan side was knocked out of the Asian Cup.
We’ll talk about the defense more in a moment, but there’s an interesting overlap potential if breakout performer Conor Bradley is able to return at right back, after missing the Arsenal match to be with family following the tragic passing of his father.
If Bradley slots in at right back, Trent Alexander-Arnold could finally slide up to the midfield full time. He looked phenomenal in such a role last year, so keep an eye out for Liverpool’s best progressive passer to move a level up the pitch.
Burnley actually isn’t a terrible possession side, ranking 13th in the league in time of possession with an average figure of 46.1%. Versatile central midfielder Josh Brownhill is the club’s top-rated player as per FotMob, with the team’s only grade above 7.0 in league play.
The team’s 4-4-2 shape means that they only play with two true midfielders, with the outside midfielders, highlighted by Wilson Odobert, playing all the way up the pitch at times.
If Liverpool are able to get Endō and Szoboszlai back, they should have absolutely no trouble controlling the middle of the pitch in this one.
The Back End
Finally, we come to the real culprits of the Arsenal debacle. The backbreaking goal came down to comical miscommunication between two genuinely shocking guilty parties; Virgil van Dijk and Alisson.
Regardless of that one moment, which may have ruined the Reds’ title chase, the entire match was a disaster, with Arsenal accumulating 3.5 xG, seven shots on target, and six big chances created.
Ibrahima Konate was sent off in perhaps his worst appearance as a Red, while Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez took tremendous steps back.
So what needs to change? Firstly, getting Andy Robertson back on a full basis, as he’s only played a half hour at a time since returning from injury, would be tremendous.
Next, Bradley’s return, and the potential subsequent move to midfield for Trent, could entirely change the complexion of the team. As for the middle of the bunch, Van Dijk, Konate, and Alisson, there’s not much else to do than chalk it up to a bad evening and move on.
Those three are some of the squad’s most consistent performers, and one failure cannot change our perception of them.
Luckily for this group, which desperately needs a strong performance to get back on track, Burnley’s attack is the real problem with their squad.
The Clarets are second to last in scoring and xG generated, and nobody on the team has more than four league goals as Zeki Amdouni and Lyle Foster sit together atop the team scoring list.
This weak front line makes for a great opportunity for Liverpool to test new things, such as Bradley on the right and Alexander-Arnold as a CDM, if everyone’s available to play.