After 68 games, 55 wins, 13 draws and almost four years, fortress Anfield has finally been stormed. Burnley were the only team to take points off Liverpool at home last season.
Now they added a still greater distinction, Ashley Barnes’s late penalty making them the first team since Crystal Palace in April 2017 to take three points here in the Premier League.
Their first win at Anfield since 1974, like victory at Arsenal last month, is another historic feat for Sean Dyche, but Liverpool’s problems intensified. They have taken three points from a possible 15 and gone 438 minutes without a league goal. Jürgen Klopp’s side have suffered from the January blues before, but this is a particularly acute case.
If they kicked off as they division’s highest and lowest scorers this season, they had been united in impotence of late. Only Leeds, Liverpool and Burnley were yet to score a league goal in 2021. Klopp took an unorthodox approach towards ending his side’s drought, benching the Golden Boot contender, Mohamed Salah, another of his front three, in Roberto Firmino, and naming a starting 11 boasted just nine top-flight goals this season, six of them from Sadio Mané. Divock Origi was granted a first start of the league season.
Klopp has rarely prioritised the FA Cup during five years at Anfield, but resting Salah and Firmino ahead of Sunday’s trip to Manchester United suggested a change of emphasis. There was also a switch in system, to 4-2-3-1, and an early emphasis on outnumbering Burnley on their left, with Xherdan Shaqiri drifting across to link up with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Liverpool have had too few goals from midfield this season and each threatened to add to the tally, Shaqiri arrowing a shot wide and Oxlade-Chamberlain drilling one at Nick Pope.
Burnley were the first to draw a save, however. Alisson redeemed himself for spilling Robbie Brady’s cross by parrying Barnes’s resulting effort. Barnes had a secondary role, often policing Thiago Alcãntara in an attempt to prevent the summer signing from running the game. One particularly agricultural challenge on the playmaker brought him the game’s first booking.
Minus Jordan Henderson, who had a minor fitness problem, Liverpool could welcome back Joël Matip. If a specialist centre-back was a welcome sight as they faced Burnley’s strapping strikers. They were halted more often than not, and frequently after interminable delays, by the offside flag. Liverpool’s high defensive line and Chris Wood’s natural tendency to get caught offside kept the assistant referee busy. It was, though, a sign of Burnley’s gameplan and their ambitions extended beyond defending.
They frustrated Liverpool in July, drawing at Anfield, and their obduracy suggested a repeat was possible. It ranked as more of a surprise, therefore, when they gifted Liverpool the clearest chance of the half. Ben Mee’s attempted back pass turned into a hideous miscue, Origi raced on to it and bent a shot past Nick Pope. It rebounded back off the bar and straight to the goalkeeper. He had made two earlier saves from the Belgian, when he wriggled free to shoot from 20 yards, but this ranked was a reminder that, since his golden 2019, Origi has rarely been clinical enough.
Liverpool’s frustrations were apparent as the half-time whistle went. Fabinho was cautioned for a kick at Barnes, with Mike Dean keeping the players on the pitch while VAR determined it was not worthy of a red card. As the managers disappeared down the tunnel, Klopp gestured angrily at Sean Dyche and aimed a few words at his Burnley counterpart.
Neither of the warring parties made a change at the break, though Dyche was soon compelled to replace Charlie Taylor, who was hurt while clearing the ball. While the Burnley full-backs had plenty of defending to do, Liverpool’s were more active in attack. Andy Robertson had tested Pope with a fierce drive in the first half and Trent Alexander-Arnold arguably drew a better stop six minutes after the restart. This was Pope’s 100th start for Burnley and, as each passing minute made it likelier he would mark the occasion with a clean sheet, Klopp acted. He summoned Salah and Firmino, ending the evenings of Origi and Oxlade-Chamberlain. He almost reaped an immediate dividend. Gini Wijnaldum carried the ball half the length of the pitch and picked out Salah. Pope flung himself to his left to block the resulting shot. Mané was the next to threaten, but skied his shot.
Firmino also angled a shot off target but Dyche’s changes could also have altered the game. The substitute Johann Berg Gudmundsson timed his arrival into the box perfectly to meet Dwight McNeil’s low cross and shot just wide. His fellow replacement Erik Pieters may have handled Alexander-Arnold’s cross; instead the penalty was given when Barnes skipped away from Fabinho, hooked the ball over Alisson and the goalkeeper brought him down. Barnes slotted in the spot kick and the unbeaten run was over.