The visitors, who have picked up points at the Etihad and Stamford Bridge so far this season, were the sort of team that the Reds are expected to beat but often haven’t in the past. As a result, they posed a particularly tricky challenge, and there was also the potential for complacency from the hosts on the back of an excellent victory over title chasers Man City on Sunday.
Thankfully, though, fears of slipping up against a so-called ‘lesser’ side and disrupting the substantial momentum that the Merseysiders have built up during an astounding unbeaten run proved unfounded, as Liverpool got the job done with time to spare on a night when their competitors for Champions League qualification left it late to bank all three points.
Stand-in skipper Jordan Henderson was a key performer once again, as he put in a performance that demonstrates he has the credentials to be Liverpool’s next captain, scoring a sensational opener in the first half and wonderfully assisting Sturridge for the Reds’ second early on in the second period.
Manager Brendan Rodgers only made one change to the team that beat City on the weekend, replacing the out of form Markovic with Sturridge, as Sterling reverted to the right wing and Lallana and Coutinho operated either side of the England striker.
Although Sturridge is still far from top form, he did find the back of the net in the second half, which can only be good for his confidence. He also went extremely close to opening the scoring only a minute in, as he combined cleverly with Sterling and Lallana down the right wing, before cutting inside and seeing Heaton produce a good save to turn away his left footed strike from 12 yards.
Liverpool went on to dominate the rest of the first half, and Jordan Henderson was at the centre of everything. On 6 minutes, he headed a corner over the bar from 10 yards, before his effort from range was tipped wide well by Heaton midway through the half. On the half hour mark, the number 14 broke the deadlock, only moments after almost sending Sturridge in on goal with a raking Gerrard-esque cross field pass.
Coutinho cut in from the left but saw his shot superbly blocked by Keane. Henderson reacted first, pouncing on the rebound to send a sweet strike into the bottom right hand corner on the half volley, leaving Heaton helpless.
|Henderson opened the scoring with a cracking strike|
Speaking of the Brazilian, Coutinho nearly produced a carbon copy of Henderson’s goal against Man City a couple of minutes after the vice-captain’s opener, but his curling shot from 25 yards went just wide of the goal. He then sent Sturridge in on goal with a fine through pass but he spurned the best chance to double the Reds’ advantage before the break, Heaton saving Sturridge’s relatively tame and disappointing effort.
Burnley’s one decent chance came right at the end of the half, as Mignolet held Barnes’ header well after Tripper had sent a free kick deep into the box. Sean Dyche’s men never really looked like threatening, though, and lost almost all hope of getting something from the game when Henderson and Sturridge combined superbly to bag the Reds’ second of the evening six minutes after the restart.
Producing another Gerrard-esque pass, Henderson fantastically picked out Sturridge six yards from goal at the far post with a simply awesome delivery. Sturridge did the rest, heading home clinically from close range to all but end the match as a contest.
|Sturridge scored a confidence boosting second for Liverpool|
It’s difficult to find fault with what was nearly a flawless performance from Rodgers’ side, but they could perhaps be criticised for failing to capitalise on the opportunity to rack up a cricket score and boost their goal difference.
After all, of those in the fight for third and fourth, only Tottenham have a worse goal difference than Liverpool. Moreover, both Arsenal and Manchester United have goal differences substantially superior to the Reds’, which could prove pivotal come the end of the season, as demonstrated by the advantage that City’s superior goal difference gave them in the title race with Liverpool in 2013/2014.
Nit-picking aside, though, Liverpool were excellent last night and full value for the three points. Unfortunately United got lucky with a late winner at Newcastle, while Arsenal and Tottenham survived late comebacks against QPR and Swansea respectively, but all the Reds can do is keep winning.
If they do that and extend their 12 match unbeaten streak even further, continuing to beat both their rivals for Champions League qualification and ‘lesser’ teams, then they will surely be a shoe-in for fourth spot, if not third.