TALKING POINTS: Burnley 0, Liverpool 3
Burnley suffered a fourth-consecutive home defeat on Wednesday night, at the hands of Liverpool – although the result was almost immaterial as Turf Moor welcomed back supporters for the first time in 15 months.
Goals from Roberto Firmino, Nat Phillips and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain gave the Reds the win that put them in the Champions League places, but Burnley made them work hard for the points in front of 3,500 of their fans.
Here are the talking points:
ONE CLUB MENTALITY
Sean Dyche spoke of creating a “one-club mentality” when he arrived in 2012, and while fans have been unable to go to games since March last year, they got behind their team in spades on their return.
There may only have been 3,500 in Turf Moor, but it could have been a full house at times, as they roared their heroes on.
There would no doubt have been a few tears as supporters made their way back down the Brunshaw Road, or Harry Potts Way, to their “Happy Place”, with family and friends, many of whom they might have been seeing again for the first time in a long time.
People have experienced every emotion following Burnley, and to have such a huge part of their life taken away for 15 months must have been unbearable.
They were determined to let Liverpool know they were there, from the first strains of “No Nay Never”, to the boos for every Reds touch.
It is often said, kick one in Burnley, and you kick all, and they gave their team all the encouragement and support they needed against the deposed champions.
And likewise, Burnley gave them a whole-hearted display full of endeavour against a class side, who will have done remarkably well given their injuries to finish in the top four if they secure Champions League football.
One moment in the second half summed up the return of the fans, screaming as one for a penalty as Johann Berg Gudmundsson went to ground, although their shouts were in vain as the Iceland international had stood on the ball.
It can surely be no surprise that Burnley’s home form, as with many others, has suffered in the absence of their supporters, and the run of 10 League games without a win will be seen as something of an anomaly in a bizarre season.
Two years ago, Will Norris enjoyed his first taste of Premier League football as an injury time substitute for Wolves in a 1–0 home win against Fulham
And his first start at this level was something of a baptism of fire, up against Liverpool.
Sean Dyche explained after that his selection was “out of respect”, with Bailey Peacock-Farrell having endured “a tough run of games”, conceding 14 in four Premier League appearances.
Martin Tyler said on commentary before the game that Norris would be nervous, but if he was, he didn’t show it, he was vocal throughout and wasn’t afraid to come out of his area and sweep up.
Some pointed the finger at him for the first and third goals in particular, with Jamie Redknapp saying of Firmino’s opener: “I think Will Norris should do better, he should save it. He’s falling back, it’s not a great piece of goalkeeping. He has to get something on it, get it away if you can.”
That seemed somewhat harsh - as soon as Firmino ran off Jack Cork, you sensed ‘goal’, and while the Brazilian didn’t necessarily make the contact he wanted, it was sufficient.
Nat Phillips powered home a header for the second, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain beat Norris at his near post for the third, but the pace on his strike was too much for him.
Norris has already shown his worth in the FA Cup with his penalty heroics against MK Dons, and as Dyche noted, deserved a chance for his impact around the dressing room since his summer move from Wolves.
Sean Dyche had another look at the 4-4-1-1 formation, on the back of the performance at Old Trafford recently, and while you wondered whether it was a case of thickening up the midfield against one of the big six, Dyche admitted after he was keen to see how it worked again.
He said: “We just played around with that look - can we be effective with it?
“The fault with that shape is can you be effective, and at times we were.
“It’s just that next step, that continuation of trying to mature is that shift in the top third of the pitch because generally we’ve been good defensively over the season, a good clean sheet number again, it’s just finding those key moments in the top third of the pitch.”
Burnley’s best season in the Premier League, in terms of placing, was seventh in 2018, achieved primarily with three central midfielders - one off a solitary striker - with Jeff Hendrick in the number 10 role.
Josh Brownhill has twice shown he is more than capable of filling that slot, and clearly relished his battle up against Thiago, pressing hard and forcing turnovers, while also looking to use the ball well.
Brownhill will look to add goals and assists next season, although Hendrick was hardly prolific in that respect.
But you wonder whether we will see more of the system next season, as Burnley look for the right balance between being secure at the back, and posing enough of a threat going forward.
Dyche prefers to use two centre forwards whenever possible, but 4-4-1-1 may be the way forward.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Mohamed Salah had scored in 99 Liverpool fixtures in all competitions going into the game, but the Egyptian came off the pitch at Turf Moor having only scored once in six league appearances against Burnley, back at Anfield in 2017.
The main reason for another blank against the Clarets was captain Ben Mee, who set the agenda early on with a magnificently-timed challenge to prevent Salah going clear from a glorious ball from Andrew Robertson.
And Mee barely gave the former Roma man a sniff over the remainder of the game.
When he did escape the attentions of Mee, Charlie Taylor was then to lever him out of a shooting chance.
While Chris Wood’s goal-gorged end to the season may give him the nod in the player of the year awards, Mee surely takes some beating for sheer consistency.
You can hang your hat on him, week after week - he must be a manager’s dream.
A model professional, it is no surprise Burnley’s season only went one way after his return to the side after injury.
A class act on and off the pitch for the club, he would be my pick as player of the year.
NAT A PROBLEM
Burnley may have looked at Liverpool’s centre back pairing and licked their lips, with Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams lining up in the heart of the defence - especially with Chris Wood in great form, having been directly involved in 11 of Burnley’s last 14 league goals, scoring eight and setting up three.
However, while Wood performed well on the night, and could and should have added to his 12 goals this season in the first half, Phillips ended up scoring one and heading one off the line at the other end, while Preston-born Williams also stood up to a stern test as Liverpool made it nine league games without defeat.
Phillips won nine of 13 aerial duels, made nine clearances and three tackles, on top of his heroics in either box, and, as he inevitably slips down the pecking order at Anfield on the return of van Dijk, Gomez and Matip, you wonder if he would make a decent signing for Burnley, on loan or permanent.