A midweek trip to Burnley on a wet and cold Wednesday night in December. Joel Matip and Alberto Moreno starting the game at the back, and Divock Origi leading the line.
You can’t help but feel that two years ago this would’ve had a sloppy two-one loss written all over it. One where Liverpool come off second best in a dog of a game and get bullied by Sean Dyche’s lads.
Ashley Barnes and Sam Vokes the scorers as Liverpool’s centre-halves throw their hands in the air, each wondering what the other was thinking.
— Grosvenor Sport (@GrosvenorSport) December 5, 2018
But no. Instead, this time, a win. A win from behind. A win when Liverpool had the answer for everything Burnley threw at them, including many of the questions which have caught the Reds out in seasons gone-by.
It’s a mark of how far Liverpool have come under Jurgen Klopp that yesterday’s win won’t be considered one of the highlights of the season come May, nor will it have surprised Reds across the land.
In Klopp’s first season, these were the games that Liverpool would look lost at sea in. Think of those winter trips to Watford, Newcastle and West Ham where Liverpool were undone by more physical, but far less technically gifted sides.
The Reds had the will, but didn’t have the grit and gnarliness, nor did they have the arrogance to realise they were far superior footballers than the eleven men that lay before them.
On Wednesday, and throughout this season, Liverpool had all those things.
The spring of 2017 seemed a marker point for this side. They go to Watford and Emre Can scores the best goal you’ve ever seen. But more importantly, Jurgen Klopp’s men hang on. They battle and they hobble over the line by the narrowest of margins as Sebastian Prödl hits the bar with the last kick of the game.
It was something Liverpool had rarely done under Brendan Rodgers.
What a picture.
What a goal. pic.twitter.com/Jce0Y6uM7e
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) May 1, 2017
That same spring the mighty Reds go to the Hawthorns, score from a set-piece against a Tony Pulis side and cling on for all three points. The irony of it all.
Liverpool go to Stoke City, start Ben Woodburn and a raw Alexander-Arnold, go one-nil down to a Jonathan Walters goal, but this time the script didn’t end with a bunch of lads on Twitter screaming ‘typical Liverpool’. The Brazilians come on and outclass Stoke. 2-1, another three points the Reds weren’t used to getting.
Liverpool now always look to have control against the dross of the league.
Liverpool don’t play particularly well in the first-half at Turf Moor, but there’s no panic. There’s no major frustration from the manager or the players on the pitch. They know the chance will come. Just like it did against Arsenal, against Watford and against Everton.
The truth is, at nine o’clock on Wednesday evening Liverpool have 30 minutes to score two goals without a reply. If they don’t, it’s a huge blow to their title chances.
Both Bournemouth and United become must wins, or else our lads run the risk of falling out of reach of the best side this league has ever seen before Christmas. This is the reality of the pace that is being set.
That is pressure. big pressure. But Liverpool are calm, they start doing the simple things right and James Milner scores a goal when every game of football you’ve ever seen tells you that his shot is going to be blocked or deflected wide.
For so long Liverpool would struggle to weather the storms in these matches. They would become demoralised after the smallest of mistakes.
But even when Liverpool lose the ball carelessly a few times from Burnley’s intense first-half pressing, there is no panic. The Reds continue to play out from the back, playing the long game and tiring Burnley out. Sowing the seeds for a second-half harvest.
Burnley kick lumps out of our lads for forty-five minutes, even forcing us into a substitution. But the men in the mix-and-match kit get back up and match the physicality when needed without ever going over the top, only conceding four fouls all game.
Burnley have all the height and muscle at set-pieces, but again Liverpool’s high line is too disciplined as Ashley Barnes gets flagged offisde.
Imagine if two years ago, or even last year for that matter, you were 2-1 up away to Burnley on a wet Wednesday night having already conceded a goal from a corner, and they get another one in stoppage time. Would you even be nervous, or would you just accept the inevitable reality that we were going to concede?
But Liverpool don’t. Alisson is brilliant for the save. He could then just take the safe option and let Trent deal with Vokes, but he doesn’t. He puts self-preservation to one side, comes and collects before getting his side on the attack again.
It’s such a mix of things that makes Liverpool so impressive in these battles. While City will go to Burnley in April and probably win even more comfortably than the Reds due to the endless depth of quality they’ve bought, the Reds’ victory will have taken more nous and creativity.
The goals come from Liverpool’s patience in the first half, as well as their array of ways to put the ball in the back of the net. One from outside the box, one from a set-piece and one from a counter-attack.
But it is also Liverpool’s discipline in defence, their calmness when going behind and their belief that they will find a way.
Don’t take it for granted. At one time, a win like this light years away, even under this manager.