Good evening! Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole
for tonight's Premier League clash between Liverpool
at Anfield. Both sides are involved in battles at opposite ends of the table as the season edges ever closer to its conclusion, and three points here would do the world of good for their respective goals in the remainder of the campaign. It should be an entertaining affair on Merseyside! Let's start with a look at the hosts...
The final stages of this season hold more importance for Liverpool than many might have expected during the opening months of the campaign courtesy of a dramatic turnaround in form. The Reds are the favourites for many people to finish in the top four now having built up valuable momentum over the past couple of months, and they come into this match as the form team in the division. Indeed, should result go their way tonight then they could end it in the Champions League places.
That would be some turnaround for the club, and manager Brendan Rodgers
deserves huge credit for masterminding the return to form. His tactics were largely responsible for how well Liverpool did last season as they came within a whisker of winning the title, but many teams discovered how to play against them in the opening months of this campaign. Rodgers went back to the drawing board, however, and his new 3-4-2-1 formation has worked wonders so far.
Liverpool remain the only unbeaten side in the Premier League since the turn of the year, with their last league defeat coming all the way back in mid-December. That is a run of 11 games that includes eight victories and - perhaps just an impressively - six clean sheets. They have won their last three coming into this match and six of their last seven to move within two points of the top four.
That run of form is even more impressive when you consider that Liverpool have had a tricky run of fixtures recently. Their last five games have come against West Ham United, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur, Southampton and Manchester City, yet they have still managed to amass 13 points from a possible 15 in that time. They cannot afford to slip-up in tonight's game, however, with every match now of crucial importance for Liverpool.
They will be full of confidence following their victory over champions Manchester City at the weekend, however, with Philippe Coutinho dazzling in a deserved 2-1 victory at Anfield. It was a fine team performance from the Reds, capped off by superb strikes from Coutinho and Henderson, and it was all the more impressive considering it came just three days after a gruelling and ultimately unsuccessful 120 minutes and penalties away to Besiktas in the Europa League.
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That result kept up Liverpool's fine home record of late, with their last defeat at Anfield in any competition coming all the way back in November. They have only lost three games in front of their own fans all season, two of which came at the hands of Chelsea and Real Madrid, but they have dropped more points than they would have liked thorough draws. They have shared the spoils five times at home in the league this season - the most in the top half - and have drawn six of their 12 matches unbeaten. They have won their last four, however, so are certainly improving in that respect.
Southampton's victory over Crystal Palace last night saw Liverpool drop back down to sixth place, but regardless of results elsewhere tonight they will at least move back above the Saints into fifth with a win at Anfield. They will also be keeping a close eye on Manchester United and Arsenal's visits to Newcastle and QPR respectively as a slip-up from either of those two teams could open the door for them to break into the top four tonight.
Burnley stand between them and a 12th consecutive Premier League match without defeat, but few people will be giving the Clarets much of a chance this evening. Sean Dyche
's side have battled admirably throughout the season and are very much still in the mix in terms of survival, but it is fair to say that they will be looking more to their home form to keep them in the division. Matches away to the likes of Liverpool are unlikely to determine whether they stay in the division or not.
Unfortunately for Sean Dyche
, their run-in is a horrid one and they will face many more tough games in the final 11 matches of the season. Their next four outings come against Manchester City, Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal which, following games against Manchester United, Chelsea, Swansea and Liverpool, would mean that they would have faced the entire current top eight in consecutive matches by the end of that run. Dyche will probably just be hoping that his side are still in with a chance of survival after that run.
Things aren't looking too good as things stand, however, with the Clarets having dropped down to 19th place courtesy of Aston Villa's dramatic late victory over West Brom last night. They do boast superior goal difference over the Villans as things stand, but the gap to safety is now three points, meaning that they would need a win tonight to stand any chance of getting themselves out of the relegation zone this evening.
Wins aren't something they have found easy to come by in recent weeks, however, with their last victory coming back on January 10. They have gone seven games without a win in all competitions since that 2-1 triumph over fellow strugglers QPR, while their extended record stands at only one win in their last 13. That is one win in 11 when you look solely at Premier League form, a run that has also seen them fail to keep a single clean sheet. They are winless in their last six league outings, picking up just two points from a possible 18 in that period.
The most recent of those matches came on Saturday as Swansea City visited Turf Moor, coming away with a 1-0 victory courtesy of Kieran Trippier's own goal. They may have only conceded once on that occasion, but Burnley still have the joint-worst defensive record in the Premier League this season, conceding 45 goals. A league-high 16 of those have been from headers too, so Liverpool could try to exploit that tonight.
Burnley's away record is another cause for concern, with the Clarets only having picked up one victory on their travels all season. That triumph - a 2-1 victory over Stoke - came back in November, and it is now eight matches since they picked up an away success. Only QPR have amassed fewer points on the road in the current campaign, while if you include their last top-flight campaign their overall record in the Premier League stands at just two away wins in 32.
There is still reason for Burnley to be hopeful tonight, however. Sean Dyche's side have proven that they can make life very difficult for the league's top sides and have picked up away draws against the league's top two - Manchester City and Chelsea - already this season. That Chelsea draw was somewhat lost in the storm of the Ashley Barnes challenge on Matic, but there is no doubting that it was a highly impressive point at Stamford Bridge.
The teams are in for both sides, and the big news for Liverpool is that Daniel Sturridge
returns to the starting lineup having been rested against Manchester City. Sterling drops back alongside Coutinho just behind the striker, while Lallana is expected to operate in the ring wing-back role in place of Markovic, who is the only change from the win over City. Burnley, meanwhile, name an unchanged side. Full teams for both sides coming right up...
LIVERPOOL STARTING XI: Mignolet; Can, Skrtel, Lovren; Lallana, Henderson, Allen, Moreno; Sterling, Sturridge, Coutinho
LIVERPOOL SUBS: Johnson, Toure, Lambert, Balotelli, Williams, Markovic, Ward
BURNLEY STARTING XI: Heaton; Trippier, Keane, Shackell, Mee; Boyd, Jones, Arfield, Kightly; Barnes, Ings
BURNLEY SUBS: Duff, Wallace, Vokes, Reid, Jutkiewicz, Gilks, Ward
What can we make of those two teams? Well, it is no surprise that Rodgers has kept changes to a minimum from that fine performance against City, with Markovic the only man to make way from the weekend. The winger was Liverpool least effective player in that match and can't have too many complaints at being dropped to the bench having suffered a bit of a dip in form over the past few matches.
It is also no surprise to see Sturridge returning to the starting lineup, with Rodgers having taking the striker's recovery slowly following a long spell on the sidelines. He has been able to do that without jeopardising results, which would have been a huge boost for both player and manager. There was talk of Sterling being rested having played 120 minutes against Besiktas last Thursday and the full 90 at the weekend, but the youngster merely drops back from his central striking role to more of an attacking midfielder one.
Alongside him behind the striker will be arguably the league;s most in-form player at the moment in Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian was excellent against Manchester City and capped an imperious display with a stunning winner just a week after scoring another screamer to break the deadlock against Southampton. The main criticism of him over the past couple of seasons was that he doesn;t get enough goals, but he looks to be adding them to his game now.
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Lallana's switch to right wing-back is an interesting one, with the former Southampton midfielder having impressed behind the striker against City. That seems to be the position Rodgers has experimented with most in the Liverpool team, and it could be the first area that he looks to strengthen in the summer. Incidentally, Johnson is only on the bench having recovered from illness. There are no chances to the back three or between the sticks as Can, Skrtel and Lovren continue in front of Mignolet.
As for Burnley, Sean Dyche names an unchanged starting XI yet again. A settled team is generally a good thing - as Chelsea have proven this year - but if results are not going your way then those on the bench may be wondering what they have to do to get a starting berth. Dyche has kept faith with the same side that lost to Swansea, however, leaving the likes of Sam Vokes on the bench once again.
Danny Ings is the main danger man for Burnley, and he may be particularly keen to impress this evening having been strongly linked with a move to Anfield this summer. Liverpool are thought to be amongst a number of potential suitors for the striker, both from England and abroad, and he has the chance to make an impression on the Reds' hierarchy tonight. He has scored five goals in his last eight Premier League games, and it is fair to say that, without him, Burnley would be in even greater danger right now.
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The Burnley back four proved themselves to be a stubborn unit in the opening months of the season, but they have struggled to keep the opposition at bay recently. As previously mentioned, they have now gone 11 Premier League games without a clean sheet, while no team in the league has conceded more than them this season. They will have another tough test in keeping out an in-form Liverpool attack tonight.
PREDICTION: We're 10 minutes away from kickoff at Anfield, which means that it is time for a prediction! All the signs point to a home victory this evening, but don't expect Burnley to make it easy for Liverpool. They will likely to playing for a draw from the off and the hosts will probably have to be patient in waiting for the breakthrough. Even so, it is hard to see anything but a Liverpool victory, and I'm going to go for a 2-0 triumph for the Reds.
Burnley's record against Liverpool is, in truth, diabolical. They have lost on their last seven visits to Anfield and have not scored a single goal in that time, while they have also been beaten in all three of their Premier League meetings. Again, Liverpool have kept clean sheets in all of those games while also scoring nine goals at the other end.
Indeed, Burnley have failed to score in their last five league games home and away against Liverpool, as well as in six of their last seven meetings in all competitions. Their last victory over the Reds in the league was way back in September 1974 when they picked up a famous 1-0 victory here at Anfield.
The Clarets can take some positives from the reverse fixture, however, despite going on to lose 1-0 at Turf Moor on Boxing Day. Burnley were the better sides for large spells of that match and will still be wondering quite how they didn't score. They had 16 shots and created a lot of chances, but none of those efforts were on target. The last league meeting here at Anfield was a different story as Yossi Benayoun scored a hat-trick in a 4-0 victory for Liverpool in 2009, with Dirk Kuyt the other player on the scoresheet.
There are a number of other Premier League fixtures taking place tonight, and you can follow each one of them live with us. I will also be keeping you up to date with major events from around the country as and when they happen. The rest of the matches began at 7.45pm, and the only goal so far as gone in at White Hart Lane, where Nacer Chadli has given Spurs the advantage against Swansea.
KICKOFF: Liverpool get us underway here at Anfield as they look to continue their superb recent form and take one step closer to breaking into the top four.
CHANCE! Liverpool almost break the deadlock inside 30 seconds! It is lovely football from the Reds, with Sterling and Sturridge linking up on the right before the latter exchanges cute passes with Lallana inside the box. The striker then gets it out of his feet and drills a low effort towards the corner, but Heaton gets down really well to make a very good stop. What a start that would have been for the hosts!
The first thing to note is that Sterling is the man who has started as the right wing-back, with Lallana filling in behind the striker. We expected it to be the other way round, but Sterling is the more natural wide player of the two so it isn't a great surprise to see him start on the flank.
CHANCE! Another decent chance for Liverpool to get an early goal here. This time it comes from a corner, with Henderson earning a yard with some good movement inside the box. He is not under great pressure as he gets his head to it, but he can't keep his effort down when he perhaps should have done better.
The hosts have made a really bright start to this match and may feel that they should already be ahead here. There is confidence flowing through the side, but Burnley are not sitting back and parking the bus. They are getting forward whenever possible too and it has been a fairly open game so far.
UPDATE: Swansea have levelled things up at White Hart Lane through Ki, while leaders Chelsea have broken the deadlock against West Ham courtesy of an Eden Hazard strike.
Coutinho wins a free kick for the hosts in a good crossing position and puts it into the box himself. Skrtel attacks it, but Heaton comes out to punch it away. He only gets it as far as Henderson on the edge of the box, but the skipper's volley is high into the Kop behind the goal.
Coutinho has seen a fair amount of the ball in the opening stages of this match, and that is something Dyche will want to stop sooner rather than later. The Brazilian has proven how dangerous he can be when given space in recent weeks, and Burnley need to be quicker out to him than they have in the opening 12 minutes.
Burnley have settled into the match a bit now following Liverpool's bright start. They are playing a bold formation considering they are away to the form team in the division, but that is how they have set up all season and it is certainly an admirable ploy from Dyche.
Liverpool break down the left flank and Moreno feeds the ball back to the edge of the box, where Coutinho is waiting. He turns down a first-time effort with players closing him down but is quickly crowded out and robbed of possession.
UPDATE: Liverpool's Merseyside rivals Everton have struggled for large periods of this season and they are in trouble again at the Britannia, where former Anfield loanee Victor Moses has given Stoke the lead.
Burnley are enjoying a good spell at the moment, knocking the ball about with confidence inside the Liverpool half. Arfield gets a shooting opportunity from around 20 yards after some more nice build-up play, but he fires a curling left-footed effort well over the top.
Lallana looks to up the tempo for Liverpool following a fairly languid period from the hosts. He turns well in midfield and tries to bend a through-ball around the defence with the outside of his boot, but there is too much on it and it runs through to the keeper.
Strange goalkeeping from Mignolet as he comes a long way out of his goal to mop up a pass through to Ings. He gets there first and clears the danger, but Skrtel looked to have the situation under control anyway.
CHANCE! Heaton is called into action at the other end twice in quick succession. First he denies a low Henderson strike from the edge of the box, getting down well to turn it round the post. The resulting corner is cleared as far as Can, whose long-range effort finds Lallana on the way through. Keane manages to get to the ball and tries to nod it back to Heaton, but Sturridge very nearly nips in and pokes it past the keeper from close range.
Sturridge may feel that he should have done better with that chance. It was good anticipation from the striker and he managed to get the slightest of touches on the ball, but not enough to divert the path of it away from the keeper.
Sturridge almost gets on the end of another here as Henderson plays a lovely pass over the top for the striker, who has made his run between the two centre-backs. It is just too heavy for Sturridge and runs through for a goal kick, but that was a Gerrard-esque pass from the stand-in skipper.
GOAL! Liverpool 1-0 Burnley (Jordan Henderson)
Well, I've just compared Henderson's pass to one from Gerrard, and it is hard to avoid doing the same with this finish! Coutinho is involved as he picks the ball up in midfield before advancing to the edge of the box and seeing his eventual shot blocked. The ball bounces out to Henderson, who lashes a first-time half volley into the corner from 20 yards. It is another fine strike from the skipper, who now has two in two for the Reds.
CLOSE! Coutinho almost adds to a Henderson strike with another stunner of his own for the second match running! It is not too dissimilar from his strike against Manchester City at the weekend as he bends a vicious effort towards the far corner, but this one ends up just a yard or so past the post.
UPDATE: Speaking of Manchester City, they have broken the deadlock right on the stroke of half time in their match against Leicester City. David Silva got the goal at the Etihad, which is good news for Burnley at the bottom of the table.
Ings is certainly putting the effort in tonight. He has chased down everything and is doing his best to make things difficult for the Liverpool defence, but he is becoming increasingly starved of service.
Burnley have responded quite well to falling behind here. They are yet to trouble Mignolet in the Liverpool goal this evening but did well to prevent the hosts from gaining too much momentum in the immediate aftermath of the opening goal and will feel that they are still very much in this match at 1-0.
Another goal before half time could well kill this game off for Liverpool, and it will be interesting to see whether they go for that second in the closing stages of this half.
Almost a chance for Liverpool as Moreno's mis-hit cross is nearly diverted into the path of Sturridge inside the box by Mee. The Burnley man recovers, however, and deals with the danger before winning a free kick off Sturridge.
CHANCE! Huge chance for Liverpool to double their lead! Lallana does really well to win the ball back in midfield before giving it to Coutinho, who in turn slides a fine through-ball to Sturridge. The Liverpool striker only has the keeper to beat, but Heaton comes up with a big save to deny him and keep his side in this match.
Heaton has made three or four very important stops in this first half, and without him in such good form this game could already be over. Sturridge may feel that he should have scored that latest chance, though, as he had time to pick his spot with only the keeper to beat.
CLOSE! Allen looks to join the ranks of Liverpool's wonder-goal scorers in recent weeks with a powerful strike from 25 yards, but his effort fizzes a yard or so over the top.
The fourth official indicates a minimum of one minute added time as Barnes plants a firm header into the arms of Mignolet having met a free kick at the back post.
HALF TIME: Liverpool 1-0 Burnley
The referee brings an end to the first half at Anfield with Liverpool in the lead, although the hosts may feel that it should be more comfortable than just a one-goal advantage. Burnley have held their own in terms of general play for most of the half, but Liverpool have still managed to create a string of good chances and the visitors have Heton to thank for keeping them in this match.
The only goal of the first half came from Henderson in his 200th Premier League outing, and it was another fine strike following his opening goal against Manchester City at the weekend. Coutinho's blocked shot bounced out to the skipper, who slammed his first-time half volley past a helpless Heaton and into the net. Steven Gerrard eat your heart out.
Heaton couldn't do anything about that goal, but he was responsible for keeping Liverpool at bay on a number of other occasions in the opening 45 minutes. The best chance for Liverpool to double their advantage fell to Sturridge, who only had the keeper to beat having been released through on goal by Coutinho. The striker had time to open up his body and pick his spot, but the Burnley keeper spread himself well to make a good stop. Even so, Sturridge probably should have scored.
Sturridge also came close to breaking the deadlock inside 30 seconds when he fired a low effort towards the bottom corner from inside the box. It was neat build-up play from the hosts involving Lallana as well, but Heaton was alert despite it being so early in the game and got down really well to make an important stop.
Coutinho came close to joining Henderson on the scoresheet in spectacular fashion for the second match in a row, but this time his curling effort flew narrowly past the far post. The Brazilian had worked space to shoot well and his subsequent effort had power and movement on it, but it just didn't bend enough to sneak inside the post with Heaton beaten.
All of the chances have come the way of Liverpool, with Burnley failing to really test Mignolet at all in that first half. The visitors haven't been playing too badly and are certainly not sitting back and parking the bus, but they have also lacked a threat in the final third so far. Liverpool have looked far more likely to get the game's second goal and, if they manage that in the second half, it would be hard to see any way back for the Clarets.
KICKOFF: Burnley get us back underway for the second half as they look to recover from a goal down to record their first ever Premier League point against Liverpool.
SAVE! Good move from Liverpool as they move the ball around in midfield before Can makes one of his barraging runs forward. He eventually drops the ball off to Coutinho, who ignores the overlapping run of Sterling to fire a low strike across goal. Heaton gets down well and makes a good stop, crucially holding on to it to deny a lurking Sturridge.
Mignolet comes a long way out of his goal to meet a high ball forward, rising above Barnes to win a header just outside the box. It was a good header from Mignolet, but both he and Barnes are feeling the effects of that clash.
GOAL! Liverpool 2-0 Burnley (Daniel Sturridge)
Liverpool have their second of the match, and that could well be game over now. Lallana does well to keep hold of the ball when surrounded by Burnley players before giving it to Henderson. The goalscorer turns provider this time, sending a fine cross to Sturridge, who plants his header beyond Heaton. Very good goal from the hosts.
BURNLEY SUB: The visitors made the first change of the evening in the wake of that goal, with Kightly coming off and Ross Wallace replacing him.
UPDATE: Liverpool look to be on course for all three points here, but the bad news is that Arsenal have also taken the lead against QPR. Olivier Giroud has got the goal at Loftus Road that would keep the Gunners three points above Liverpool. Arsenal's North London rivals Tottenham have also moved back into the lead and are now beating Swansea 3-1 courtesy of goals from Mason and Townsend.
Liverpool will just be keen to quell any potential Burnley response over the next 10 minutes or so. The hosts have looked very comfortable throughout this match so far, but any mistake or slip in concentration could hand the visitors a lifeline. Remember, Burnley have come from two goals down to draw away to champions Manchester City already this season.
Burnley aren't giving up on this one just yet. They are enjoying a decent spell at the moment, putting Liverpool under pressure without really finding a way through to test Mignolet.
SHOT! The visitors do finally have a rare shot that makes it all the way through, with Barnes watching a spinning ball onto the volley and firing an effort a few yards wide of the near post. Mignolet looked to have it covered, though.
CHANCE! Brilliant play from Sterling down the right as he races away from Mee to reach the byline. He puts a dangerous cross into the middle that goes all the way through to Moreno at the back post, but the full-back slips as he shoots and slices an effort wide of the near post.
Liverpool do seem to have come through that period of Burnley pressure now and are back in control of proceedings here. Rodgers may just want another goal to put the result beyond doubt, and you wouldn't bet against them getting one.
Can does well in midfield to win the ball back before laying it off to Sturridge, who only has one thing in his mind when he receives the ball 25 yards out. He immediately lines up a shot but curls his effort well over the top.
BURNLEY SUB: A second change for the visitors as Sam Vokes replaces Barnes for the final 25 minutes or so.
Almost lovely from Lallana as he collects a pass from Coutinho before dummying a shot to earn space to shoot from the edge of the box. He tries to curl one into the far top corner, but Keane is there to make an important block.
UPDATE: Arsenal had doubled their lead against QPR courtesy of an Alexis Sanchez strike, but the Londoners have since pulled a goal back through Charlie Austin to make it 2-1 at Loftus Road. Stoke, meanwhile, have moved into a 2-0 lead over Everton thanks to Mame Biram Diouf's strike.
Liverpool are just controlling the ball now as they look to see out the final 20 minutes of this match. It would take a remarkable change in how this game is going for Burnley to get back into it.
LIVERPOOL SUB: The hosts make their first change of the night as Kolo Toure replaces Moreno. That will see Can move to right wing-back and, interestingly, Sterling over into left wing-back.
UPDATE: Bad news for Liverpool as Manchester United look to have rescued a late win away to Newcastle, with Ashley Young breaking the deadlock in the final minute of normal time at St James' Park. There is good news for Burnley, however, as Manchester City have doubled their lead over Leicester through James Milner.
SAVE! Enterprising play from Sterling down the left as he advances into the box and shows good footwork to work space for a shot despite being double-marked by Burnley. He gets plenty of power behind his effort, but the angle is against him and Heaton makes a fairly routine stop.
This time Liverpool come forward down the right wing, with Can bursting forward. The ball sits up nicely for him from the corner of the box and he tries an ambitious volley, but it is straight at Heaton, who holds on with ease.
Promising attack from Burnley as Ings is slid through down the right channel, but his cross hits Skrtel and goes behind for a corner. There were muted claims for a handball against Skrtel, but the referee was having none of it.
LIVERPOOL SUB: A second change for the hosts as Sturridge is replaced by Glen Johnson for the final seven minutes plus stoppage time.
YELLOW CARD! We've had to wait until the 85th minute, but we finally have the first card of the match. It goes to Mee, who slid in with a tired challenge on Can and had no complaints with the decision.
Burnley have really struggled to create anything in the way of chances in tonight's game, and they can have no complaints at losing this game. Liverpool have been in control from start to finish and probably should be more than just two goals ahead.
A concern for Burnley here as Ings pulls up and is limping towards the touchline. They are unlikely to risk him in the closing stages of this match.
LIVERPOOL SUB: Liverpool make their third and final change of the match as Rickie Lambert replaces Sterling.
BURNLEY SUB: Burnley also make their final change, with Lukas Jutkiewicz the man to replace the injury Ings.
There will be three minutes of added time at the end of this match.
FULL TIME: Liverpool 2-0 Burnley
Liverpool see out the comfortable victory at Anfield, extending their unbeaten streak in the league to 12 matches and moving back up into fifth in the Premier League table as a result. Henderson opened the scored for the hosts with a powerful strike from the edge of the box, while Sturridge added the second to seal with points with a good header after the interval. It could have been more for the Reds, but that was enough for them to pick up the points and keep the pressure on the top four.
That is all we have time for this evening! Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole
for an important match at both ends of the table as Liverpool maintain their fine form with a 2-0 victory over relegation-threatened Burnley. I will leave you with our match report
, and be sure to stick around for reaction, analysis and player ratings. From me, though it is goodbye for now!