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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Liverpool 3 Burnley 1: Alexander-Arnold injury worry but Salah’s absence well covered

Liverpool reclaimed top spot in the Premier League table after Manchester City’s win earlier in the day by defeating Burnley 3-1 in front of a new league attendance record at Anfield of 59,896 supporters.

In the continued absence of Mohamed Salah, Diogo Jota gave Liverpool the lead with a simple header from a Trent Alexander-Arnold corner after 31 minutes.

Liverpoll manager Jurgen Klopp was booked for his protests after Jota was denied a first-half penalty, and his mood will have worsened when Dara O’Shea headed the first Premier League goal of his career to send the teams in level at 1-1.

Alexander-Arnold was surprisingly replaced by Harvey Elliott at half-time, with Curtis Jones playing as an emergency right-back, and it was Elliott’s deflected cross that Luis Diaz met to put Liverpool 2-1 up on 52 minutes. Klopp’s side gave up chances for Burnley to equalise but then made the game safe on 79 minutes when Elliott set up Darwin Nunez for a fourth headed goal of the afternoon.

The Athletic’s Phil Buckingham breaks down the game’s main talking points.

How well has Jota covered Salah’s absence?

Someone had to step up in the prolonged absence of Mohamed Salah, whose last appearance was on New Year’s Day, and no one has been more effective in Liverpool’s attack than Diogo Jota. It is five goals in six appearances for the Portugal international, and his latest jolted a flat team performance to life.

Jota’s close-range header owed much to the misjudgement of goalkeeper James Trafford, who was caught under the flight of the ball, but those instincts continued to carry value on a day he was eventually joined on the scoresheet by Diaz and Nunez.

Nunez scores the fourth headed goal of the contest (Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Jota’s form since returning from his own injury absence in late December has been excellent. It is six goals and three assists since that Boxing Day comeback, a run that puts him on course for his most productive scoring season in Liverpool colours. A previous best was 21 goals across all competitions in 2021-22. Club icon Jamie Carragher’s claim that Jota was among Liverpool’s best finishers of the Premier League era is not without foundation.

Salah will always be welcomed back once he is injury-free but, with Nunez and Diaz also contributing, it is 22 goals for Liverpool in their eight league and cup games since he last played for them.

Why was Jones playing right-back?

Ten days after debating whether Conor Bradley or Alexander-Arnold had the strongest claims for a run at right-back, Klopp was forced to turn to Jones to solve an unforeseen problem.

Bradley was still unavailable following the death of his father, Joe, last week and half-time here brought an unexpected change as Alexander-Arnold was withdrawn after suffering discomfort in the same knee that had kept him out in January.

Alexander-Arnold went off at half-time (Photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Klopp opted to move Jones out of his starting position in midfield, deploying the academy graduate in the same role he was asked to play in the Carabao Cup win over Leicester City here in September. Jones’ display that night was called “super-smart” by Klopp.

Alexander-Arnold’s habit of stepping out of defence and into midfield made Jones a useful candidate as a stand-in and much of the second half was spent supporting attacks.

Liverpool’s frailties after half-time were not down to Jones yet with Jarell Quansah starting only his fourth Premier League game, that right side of the back line was certainly looking patched up and inexperienced.

How big was Elliott’s impact?

This season is turning out to be a test of Elliott’s patience. Only three of his 19 Premier League appearances before today had been starts but his latest chance off the bench, introduced as a half-time substitute, could not be faulted.

Twice, Elliott found space in the right-hand channel and twice he produced precise crosses into the box that helped Liverpool finally see off the spirited threat of Burnley. The first cross was clever, low into a dangerous area for Diaz to arrive and head past Trafford at knee height. The second was inswinging and more aerial, allowing Nunez to arch his neck and glance the ball into the top corner.

Liverpool had been wobbling before those two second-half goals but the creativity of Elliott was key to Klopp’s side making it five home wins out of five this calendar year.

There will be no shortage of opportunities for Elliott to play his part in the final four months of the season. For all he might struggle to convince he warrants a place in Klopp’s strongest XI, their fight for trophies on four fronts needs his intelligence and flair.

Days such as these, when lesser opponents threaten to make life awkward, underline just that.

What did Klopp say?

On Alexander-Arnold: “It was clear it was a really tricky afternoon. The boys showed exactly what we needed. At the start of the game we were in a bit of a rush. They had counter attacks and that doesn’t feel great. It was obviously a problem at half-time that we had to take Trent off.

“That was a double problem if you want; we had to take Trent off and we didn’t have a right-back available so we told Curtis what he had to do. We changed formation because we had to make it as simple as possible for him. He did exceptionally well. Harvey came on and did very well.

“Burnley still had their moments but once we scored the third one we could’ve scored more. It was a really good result aside from the Trent situation.”

To Sky Sports he added: “(It’s the) same area in the knee. Nothing really bad but he felt it again and we have to see. We will assess it. We were made aware of it in the game so thought ‘what can we do’ and then Trent said ‘it’s fine’. But it’s not as he feels it, so we had to be careful and take him off.”

What next for Liverpool?

Saturday, February 17: Brentford (A), Premier League, 12.30pm GMT, 7.30am ET

Liverpool go for their first league win away to Brentford since… March 1938! Their two trips there since the west Londoners returned to the top flight in the 2021-22 season have been a 3-3 draw and then a 3-1 loss in January last year. The good news is Liverpool have won the past two meetings, both at Anfield, by a combined score of four goals to nil.

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(Top photo: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

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