In a year when Jürgen Klopp has spent £50m on a forward, Liverpool seem to have gained a prolific scorer. Not Luis Díaz – or not yet, anyway – but Fabinho. Klopp’s title hopes may be faint but they could have been extinguished without his newly potent holding midfielder. Fabinho’s fifth goal of 2022 reduced the gap to Manchester City to nine points; had it not been scored by the man who shields the back four, the temptation would have been to call it a poacher’s strike, scrambled in from half a yard and showing a predatory instinct associated more with strikers.
The importance of a clinical touch was underlined as Burnley lacked one. Their last 851 minutes of top-flight football have yielded them a mere three goals, just as they have a solitary league win here in more than a year. One unwanted statistic ought to have changed and another could have done courtesy of a first half when they had the superior chances. And yet, thanks to Fabinho, Burnley went in with a deficit. Unlike against Manchester United last Tuesday, there was no comeback. Seven points from safety, their local derbies next season are likelier to involve Wigan and Blackpool than Liverpool and United.
For Liverpool, however, it was the definition of a hard-fought win. Troubled initially, and unconvincing before the interval, they played with greater authority after Fabinho struck. Virgil van Dijk eventually looked unruffled in the Burnley gales. Others dug in. “We made our shirts dirty,” Klopp grinned.
He could be grateful his plans required a rethink. The initial intention was for Sadio Mané to be a substitute. Promoted to start because of Diogo Jota’s dead leg, he proved Liverpool’s brightest attacker, taking the momentum he gained in the Africa Cup of Nations to a different continent and a very different climate as Díaz was spared a baptism of wind, rain and cold. Even by Burnley’s standards, it was inclement weather. “Everything was set up to be a banana skin for us,” said Klopp. “The wind was ridiculous. It came from all directions.”
If the stereotype suggested it was scarcely a day for Brazilians, Fabinho proved otherwise. What looked the most prosaic of goals, it was the product of planning. Liverpool are the division’s set-piece specialists and, when they were otherwise uncreative, they forged two clear openings from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s dead-ball delivery and Mané’s elusiveness. Each brought saves from Nick Pope, but with a different sequel.
When Mané met the right-back’s free-kick with a half-volley, it thudded into the goalkeeper’s chest and bounced to safety. Then Mané arrived in space Liverpool had pinpointed but he had to improvise a low header from Alexander-Arnold’s corner, Fabinho stole in behind James Tarkowski to shoot. Pope saved, but the midfielder bundled in the rebound.
“He scores a counter-pressing goal in the six-yard box,” beamed Klopp. After four goals in 142 games, this was Fabinho’s fifth in seven. Klopp shouldered the blame for his previous barren spell. “He probably would have scored much more goals for Liverpool if I had put him in the box in offensive set pieces,” he said. “Only recently we did and he scores.”
Pope, apart from a Naby Keïta shot he clawed away, was relatively untroubled. Along with a scuffed effort from the substitute Jota, Liverpool’s greatest threat in open play was when Ben Mee almost turned Alexander-Arnold’s cross into his own net.
The visiting defence was subjected to a stiffer examination against awkward, attritional opponents. “We dealt with it pretty well,” Klopp said, but only after fraught moments. There were points where it appeared to be the quintessential Burnley performance, save for the most important element: the finish.
“Frustrated,” said their manager, Sean Dyche. “We have created some golden chances and we have to keep on doing that and we have got to take them.” In particular, Wout Weghorst, the January signing from Wolfsburg, has to. “You can see his cleverness and work ethic,” said Dyche and if Weghorst’s touches suggested the giant Dutchman may be an upgrade on the departed Chris Wood, definitive judgments may be formed on the basis of their respective goal tallies. Weghorst’s wait to open his Burnley account goes on after a display of profligacy.