Sunday 12th March 2017- 16:00- Sky Sports 1 HD
Liverpool have a chance to put a gap of 5 points between themselves and the chasing pack for the top 4 this weekend, as they face Burnley at Anfield, with Manchester United and Arsenal playing in the FA Cup this weekend. The Reds are coming off a comfortable 3-1 victory against Arsenal, which put them back into the top four. Despite this, this weekend’s game against Burnley will come as more of a challenge. It may seem ridiculous to even suggest it will be tougher than facing the Gunners, but Liverpool have seriously struggled when playing teams in the lower half of the league.
Case in point being when they last played Burnley in the league, and Burnley despite absorbing enormous pressure, ran out 2-0 winners. The Reds have been unconvincing in their performances this year, and have failed to produce consistent results. In their last eight games in all competitions, manager Jurgen Klopp’s charges have won only two games, losing five.
Four of Liverpool’s five losses in the league this season have come against teams who started the match in the relegation zone, and while Burnley do not fit that description their recent form, particularly on the road, should make Liverpool overwhelming favourites to win this one too.
On paper, the home advantage looks as though it could be key. Since a dreadful run of three straight home defeats to Swansea, Southampton and Wolverhampton Wanderers, Liverpool have taken seven points from a possible nine against Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal at Anfield.
Indeed, before that three-match losing streak Liverpool had not been beaten in their opening 12 home games of the season, so the dip in form – however costly it may have been – looks to have been an anomaly rather than a changing of the tide.
Only Tottenham and Chelsea have picked up more points in front of their own fans this season, and another win could prove to be crucial to Liverpool’s chances of returning to Champions League football next term. Klopp talked about how difficult he expected the Burnley game to be, during his pre-match press conference.
“Before Arsenal, the mood was optimistic. In this moment, I’m not sure we will win against Burnley but I am quite optimistic because I know about the boys,”
“We always have to be competitive and that’s what we have to be in this game too, no-one should expect an easy game. We are ready for the fight.”
Liverpool will be without Jordan Henderson for the third successive game in the row, with the Reds skipper still suffering with a foot injury. Daniel Sturridge also continues with his injury issues as the striker misses the game, as he is sidelined with a strain.
While Dejan Lovren returned from a hip injury against Arsenal last weekend as an unused substitute and could start on Sunday, and Roberto Firmino is a doubt, but will be assessed before the game.
While Burnley currently sit in 12th position in the league, in what would be regarded as a comfortable position. However, this week Swansea manager Paul Clement claimed that as many as nine teams are in danger of being relegated from the Premier League this season – a net that is just about wide enough to catch Burnley in.
The Clarets will not be overly concerned just yet, as nine points still separate them from the relegation zone as things stand and, while the likes of Leicester, Swansea and Crystal Palace have improved in recent weeks, the current bottom three of Middlesbrough, Hull and Sunderland have not shown many signs of chasing down a gap that big.
There are plenty of teams more susceptible to the drop than Burnley, but Clarets manager Sean Dyche will still want his side to reach the magic 40-point mark as soon as possible. Three more wins would do that, but just four of their last 11 games come against teams currently below them in the table, and all of those are away from home.
The away issue is one that could prove to be important considering Burnley have the worst record on the road in the Premier League this season, amassing just two points from a possible 39 and scoring just eight goals in the process.
In all competitions Burnley have lost 12 and won none of their 15 away outings this term, although they have shown gradual improvements as the season, and they have not been beaten by more than one goal on the road since the start of December.
The Clarets have generally raised their game when they have travelled to face teams in the upper echelons of the league too. Manchester United were held to a goalless draw at Old Trafford, while Spurs, Man City and Arsenal all only managed to scrape 2-1 victories – the latter of which came courtesy of a 98th-minute winner.
Home and away, Burnley are now winless in their last five games since the end of January, although they have not lost back-to-back matches since before Christmas – a record that would end should they be beaten by Liverpool on Sunday.
Burnley’s main concern for the match is goalkeeper Tom Heaton, who missed the loss to Swansea due to illness; however he should be fit to return on Sunday. Steven Defour could also make his comeback from a thigh injury which has kept him out since the end of January. Johann Berg Gudmundsson will miss the trip with a knee injury, whilst Jon Flanagan is ineligible to face his parent club. Ashley Barnes will also return from suspension.
By Rich Lee @RichLee2202