The Premier League has always been that elusive step too far for Lancashire outfit Burnley. Under Owen Coyle they first won promotion to the top tier back in 2009, Wade Elliott’s winning goal enough to see off Sheffield United in the Championship Playoff Final and secure promotion under the Wembley arch, only for the Clarets to make an immediate return to the Championship the following season.
Their second spell in the top-tier didn’t bear fruit either. Manager Sean Dyche led his men to the Premier League via the Championship runners-up spot in 2013/14, only to once again find the top tier too hot to handle. The Clarets kept faith with their manager however, dubbed “the Ginger Mourinho”, and he repaid their confidence by taking Burnley to the Championship title last season. Clarets fans will be hoping it will be third time lucky for Burnley in terms of staying in the Premier League, a club who are beginning to develop somewhat of a yo-yo club reputation.
Their first outing of the new Premier League season however, has done little to ignite any optimism that this indeed will be the season for Burnley to show their Premier League credentials. Swansea City, a team that has undergone something of an exodus at the Liberty Stadium during the summer, snatched all the points late on at Turf Moor courtesy of Leroy Fer’s 82nd minute strike, whilst star-man Andre Gray- whose shoulders bear the hopes of most Burnley supporters after his 23 goals fired them to the second-tier title last season- suffered a baptism of fire in his first ever Premier League appearance. Bar testing Swans goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski early on with his only shot on target out of four attempts throughout the game, he was anonymous in the second half and nullified by Swansea’s centre-half pairing of Jordi Amat and Federico Fernández, who did a sterling job at the back for the visitors after the departure of captain Ashley Williams to Everton days before the season began.
Burnley’s opening day blank meant that Gray has scored just once in his last 10 league outings at Turf Moor, and with the recently unwanted tendency to misfire creeping up on the reigning Championship Player of the Year, Jurgen Klopp and his Liverpool side, who visit Turf Moor this weekend, will be rubbing their hands with glee.
Turf Moor in the Premier League era has been a very happy hunting grounf for the Reds after all. In fact they have a 100% record in the Premier League against the Clarets, one of only three clubs they boast this record against, the others being Cardiff City and Bournemouth. Moreover, after their superb start to the season in last Sunday’s humdinger of a match at the Emirates, where Liverpool saw off Arsenal in a thrilling 4-3 victory to take all the points, the Reds will be fancying their chaces of putting the goal shy Clarets to the sword to build on their dream start.
At Arsenal they did, arguably, capitalise on a depleted and inexperienced Gunners defence, but with Burnley’s lack of bite in front of goal- particularly at this level- they always leave themselves vulnerable to being punished. No team is more capable of that than Liverpool, and they have thrown up some entertaining encounters on the road of late, their last nine away games in the Premier League containing a total of 41 goals, including a 5-4 win at Carrow Road against Norwich City last season where Adam Lallana stole the points for Liverpool with a stoppage-time volley.
Therefore, although the omens point towards Liverpool clinching the spoils, there is a defensive vulnerability which Burnley can exploit, one weak link being left-back Alberto Moreno, who was brutally exposed during the match at Arsenal by the pace and trickery of Theo Walcott on the right flank. He has however received backing from his manager after coming under heavy criticism, so may get the nod on Saturday, though James Milner may yet come in to replace the hapless Spaniard, but playing out of position it is still an area from which the home side can capitalise, and if the Clarets do manage to score a precious goal, we may just have another belter on our hands featuring the Merseysiders on the road.
Liverpool do of course carry a wealth of attacking talent in their ranks, but they may be forced to line-up without summer-signing Sadio Mané, who had a fine debut at the Emirates after signing from Southampton, scoring a scintillating solo goal. He injured his shoulder in training and may have to sit out the trip to Lancashire, which would be a welcome boost for Burnley’s defence, who are still encountering teething problems in the top-flight. Their first-choice back-four of Matt Lowton, Michael Keane, Ben Mee and Stephen Ward is blessed with experience in the Premier League, but they have the tendency to switch off at key times at the highest level, which has often proved their downfall and reared its ugly head again last weekend as Swansea struck late.
Sean Dyche will set up his Burnley side not to concede a goal in the game and to try and pinch a winner on the counter, with the outlet coming from Andre Gray and tall forward Sam Vokes, with service coming in from the flanks via Scott Arfield and George Boyd. If Burnley’s tactics do pay off and they manage to get the first goal, previous show that Liverpool have a strong tendency to react from going a goal down away from home, and that may pave the way for a weekend classic at Turf Moor.
Unfortunately, the game looks to be too early for the return of Liverpool’s Danny Ings, who would be facing former club Burnley for the first-time since his move to Anfield in the summer of 2015, which would certainly have added fuel to the pre-match fire.
For Liverpool to be serious about their top four and potentially even title challenge however, Jurgen Klopp and his squad will know that these tricky away fixtures will be the games that make the difference, and that they must be negotiated in a professional manner. Burnley on the other hand are desperate for points after a discouraging start, but they have a second chance to get themsleves off the mark at home, and with Liverpool in town, it is a game they’ll certainly be up for and they will be desperate to put right their poor record against the Merseysiders. Burnley’s latest signing, Belgian international Steven Defour who joins the Lancashire side from Anderlecht is set to make his debut, and he will add further bite to the Burnley midfield and will be keen to make a big impression in his first outing for the club, particularly against opposition of Liverpool’s magnitude. He has been known for his fiery personality on the pitch, having been sent off in a top of the table clash for Andelrecht in the Belgian Pro League agsint his former club Standard de Liege.
The pre-match scenario and the manner in which Liverpool’s away fixtures have previously panned out gives this Saturday afternoon showdown all the ingredients of a potential classic, and fans of both clubs and neutrals alike will be eagerly waiting to discover whether it unfolds as such.
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