Liverpool 2, Burnley 0: Chris Boden’s thoughts on the defeat at Anfield

A so-called “lighter-touch” has been applied to refereeing in the Premier League so far this season, to wide acclaim.

Sunday, 22nd August 2021, 9:00 am
Ben Mee with referee Mike Dean

Former man in the middle, and now senior referees' coach for the Professional Game Match Officials Board, Chris Foy said last week after the first round of fixtures: “In March, clubs were surveyed for their views on refereeing and they fed back their thoughts.

“Then we had the Euros which which were a success in the way matches were officiated.

“The result we want is players going out to express themselves, and on the evidence of the games I saw, which were really competitive, it’s encouraging.”

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However, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp appears to be the sole voice of dissent.

Despite a game where there were no controversial incidents, no obvious injuries sustained, and not a yellow card brandished, the German saw fit to bizarrely point the finger at Burnley strikers Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes for “dangerous” play.

Klopp said: “We always had to be ready for a proper fight. We were today in a really difficult game, because you saw these challenges with (Ashley) Barnes and (Chris) Wood and Virgil (Van Dijk) and Joel (Matip).

“I’m not 100 per cent sure if we are really going in the right direction with these kind of decisions. It feels like we go back 10, 15 years back to when we said ‘oh, that was the football we wanted to see’. It’s just too dangerous.

“The message now is let the game flow, but nobody exactly knows what that means. I like decisions that favour the offensive team, that’s fine. But we have to stick to protecting the players. We cannot deny that. If you like that sort of thing, watch wrestling.”

It was an odd thing to say, particularly after what ended as a comfortable victory for the Reds, after a first half in which Burnley had given as good as they got.

But it was even odder given it was the day the Clarets broke a 27-year-old Premier League record held by Ipswich Town for the most consecutive Premier League games without a red card - which now stands at 95.

Burnley had been described before the game by Klopp as “annoying”, which was a backhanded compliment.

As Sean Dyche has often said, they play hard, but fair, within the rules.

So why the continued criticism? The ridiculous comparisons from sections of social media to a rugby team, or the Wimbledon side of the 1980s?

Burnley’s discipline is second to none - note the calm, composed way captain Ben Mee approached referee Mike Dean as Mohamed Salah appeared to make it 2-0 in the first half, which was disallowed for off-side.

There is no ranting and raving, surrounding officials, screaming in their faces.

I don’t see any malice, or overly-aggressive challenges, just an old-fashioned refusal to roll over.

Yes, there is a streetwise nature at times, but Burnley have to find a way to win against these lavishly-assembled squads, who have single players worth more than the Clarets’ entire team.

And they have found a way to win enough games to ensure top-flight football for a sixth-successive season.

Despite defeats in the opening two games, and the continued struggles in the transfer market, Dyche’s side have shown enough in those games to suggest they will again pick up points.

As Dyche said: “There has to be life in your performance and I think there was at Brighton and there was today.”

But as he added: “There is certainly the right energy and feel about the group at the minute, although we are limited in numbers again.”

Both games have shown up the lack of options at Dyche’s disposal.

Brighton made changes tactically and in terms of personnel which altered the course of the opening game, while, with Burnley well in the game after the hour at Anfield, Dyche had one senior striker and no midfielders to turn to.

He and his players need help, in terms of that freshness a new face or two brings, and added quality to make life a little easier.

As it stands, Burnley are so dependent on Dwight McNeil for their attacking threat.

McNeil won his one on one duels with Trent Alexander-Arnold again and again, in a battle he has enjoyed on every visit to Anfield.

After the game, however, all the rave reviews were for the England right back, for his outstanding ability going forward - despite McNeil constantly getting the wrong side of him - and the hugely talented Harvey Elliott.

McNeil would also look a world-beater in a side with so many attacking threats, who don’t always have to do the work against the ball he has to.

He looks so at home on stages like this, although he needs someone else to dovetail with, to share the responsibility.

Burnley need bodies, but they also need more quality, and the next few days or so could be the most important of the season.

When you look back, since the arrival of Wood in August 2017, who has been signed and strengthened the first team?

That wait needs to end before the start of September.