Klopp left bemused as Liverpool fire blanks again
The question in the summer was how would Liverpool cope without Philippe Coutinho. It has evolved into how they thrive without Sadio Mane.
Another frustrating home draw demonstrated just how much the suspended Senegalese’s loss is felt.
Coutinho was back after a pre-season of friction, searching for form as much as possession in a deep midfield role, but the consequences of Mane’s threegame ban have already impacted on Jurgen Klopp’s side. The rotation system the manager believes essential to success was sent spinning.
Klopp made seven changes to the side that faced Sevilla in the Champions League. Mass alterations might be necessary for fresh legs, but they can also be undermining. Players are seeking an understanding as much as rhythm and sharpness to their game.
Now Liverpool are already five points behind Manchester City, a week which began with defensive toils ending with a rare blunt attacking display.
Burnley’s stand-in goalkeeper Nick Pope withstood the pinches of pressure impressively. The home side had 35 attempts on his goal but the forward surge was never incessant.
Aside from the one time Pope was beaten for Mohamed Salah’s equaliser, the most trouble the goalkeeper faced was a caution from referee Roger East for time-wasting. It could have been even better for Burnley. Scott Arfield put Sean Dyche’s side ahead in the first half and, despite Salah’s immediate response, Joel Matip’s goal-line clearance from Ben Mee’s header prevented a late winner.
“That would have been typical for us at the moment,” said Klopp.
Liverpool were full of combinations and tricks, but often too far from goal. They were rarely granted an audience with the Pope from close range, snapshots keeping the 25-year-old alert until a late rally when substitute Dominic Solanke struck the bar.
“I am not in a perfect mood. It is a strange feeling,” said Klopp. “We drew but a lot of parts with the game I was pleased. We were fluent and created moments. We did it often enough and with a better decision we could have done more. It was the best performance versus Burnley since I have been here, but not results-wise.
“We had the chance to score but hit the crossbar. Luck was not wearing a Liverpool shirt.”
Burnley’s game plan was predictable but effective. Long diagonal balls were aimed towards Chris Wood, who drifted wide to challenge young rightback Trent Alexander-Arnold. From such a move the visitors took a 26thminute lead, the striker directing his header towards Liverpool’s area where Arfield was unchallenged, stroking cleanly past Simon Mignolet.
Liverpool levelled three minutes later. This time Dyche was rueing slack defending as a simple Emre Can pass picked out Salah. Naturally it was the Egyptian’s left foot slamming the ball past Pope.
Burnley offered little going forward, hoping another Liverpool error would earn them an unlikely win. It almost did. After Mee’s 81st-minute header off the line, Mignolet denied the same player from the resulting corner.
“Our game plan was not to come here and think we are going to keep the ball all afternoon,” said Dyche.
“They made seven changes, players who have been brought in for absolute fortunes, players on the bench who have come in for £30million.
“Everyone says they are having a tough time with set-pieces. We thought that would be important. We had two cleared off the line with set-pieces so our plan was right and to make things uncomfortable for them.”
Dyche did not have to justify his tactics. The fact Burnley have now won at Chelsea and taken a point at Tottenham and Liverpool also means there is more to this than the home side’s carelessness. A miserable away run last season is already being reversed.
“They are bit more assured,” said Dyche. “Even against those superpower clubs, we think, let’s take it on. The challenge we have as managers is we are judged exactly the same but the playing field is not level. But I don’t want to make too much of a big deal because I believe in my players, however much they cost.”
When Liverpool lost Mane for a month last January, he returned to find his side had fallen off the pace in the Premier League.
With others sprinting out of the starting blocks this season, even the briefest absence of their key player may leave them playing catch-up earlier than expected.
Well matched: Burnley’s Scott Arfield (left) battles with James Milner during yesterday’s draw at Anfield