Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Liverpool 4 Burnley 0

Premiership Match report
Reporter: The Main (Stand) Man

gainst a side that have already turned over both Manchester United and Everton, the reds were looking for a convincing display to follow up the hard fought win over Bolton prior to the international break. Enhancing the incentive for the players to put on a good show was the welcome return to Anfield of Michael Shields following the rectification of one of the most glaring miscarriages of justice of our times.

Javier Mascherano was missing after his long trip back to his homeland, with Steven Gerrard dropping back into a central midfield role alongside Lucas, with Benayoun supporting Fernando Torres up front and Riera and Kuyt on the wings. The only change to the back four from the Reebok was the return of Martin Skrtel in place of Kyrgiakos.

It was the visitors who created the first chance with a decent passing move opening up the Liverpool defence with barely a minute on the clock, but Blake could not direct his low shot inside Pepe Reina’s left hand post. It took another five minutes before Liverpool created anything of note, with the ball ricocheting to Dirk Kuyt after Riera’s run into the box. His shot was saved easily enough, though, by Jensen in the Burnley goal, the man known affectionately by the travelling support as ‘The Beast’. The home side were struggling, though, in the opposition half as Burnley repeatedly got numbers behind the ball to thwart any attacking intent. As the clock ticked past the half hour, the reds midfield were starting to enjoy some lengthy spells in possession without the required penetration, and in all truth the away team were coping admirably as they had done recently at Stamford Bridge almost until half time.

An effort from Kuyt after 20 minutes, though, seemed to signal an increase in tempo from the Liverpool team. His effort was marginally wide of the goal, but within 2 minutes Benayoun went close with a header from a Riera cross. Burnley were offering little going forward by this stage, and seemed to be content with attempting to frustrate Liverpool rather than look for opportunities to move ahead. This was soon to prove a flawed tactical outlook, however, as Liverpool finally got the breakthrough in the 27th minute. The ball went out to Johnson on the right flank, and his sidefooted pass was perfectly into the stride of Benayoun. His quick feet found a yard of space and a beautifully placed shot went just inside the far post leaving Jensen with no chance. It could have been two moments later, as an excellent cross from Riera found Benayoun diving in at the front post, but his header was straight at the Burnley keeper and Kuyt was unable to profit from the rebound. The little Israeli then put an effort straight at the keeper from the edge of the box, and by now Liverpool were making all the running. Lucas found himself in yards of space outside the penalty area, and his shot was well saved by Jensen, and Riera’s effort followed this up by going just wide of the keeper’s left upright.

With all this pressure, it was perhaps inevitable that Liverpool should double their lead before the break, and this proved to be the case. A swift move from the Liverpool half left the ball again at Benayoun’s feet. He was not closed down and took a speculative effort from 20 yards, which the goalkeeper was only able to palm down in front of him. Kuyt was alive to the possibility of a rebound and darted in to slot past Jensen. The keeper then spilt another effort from Johnson, but was able to recover before Benayoun could benefit. Jensen was able to atone for his earlier error, though, with a wonderful diving save from Gerrard. The reds skipper found himself in an empty space bigger even than that contained in the Everton trophy cabinet, and as the ball came along the ground to him, he curved a wicked effort towards the top corner, but Jensen sprang to his left to divert the ball around the post.

The referee soon blew the whistle for half time, with Liverpool looking comfortable to say the least. After a start which was worryingly devoid of decent chances, the home side had made the obvious gulf in ability of the two teams pay to establish a lead from which it was unlikely that Burnley would be able to recover. They re-emerged into the bright Anfield sunshine with no changes to the line-up, and with the crowd looking for them to press home their advantage with more goals.

Liverpool were again a little slow to start the half, though, with no clear chances in the first five minutes of the period. A burst from Gerrard brought appeals for a penalty from the Kop, but the captain helpfully left a boot where the challenge had been made, and the referee awarded a freekick outside the box which came to nothing. A tame effort from Kuyt followed after a low centre from Benayoun, and shortly afterward Torres drew a challenge from Howard which brought the first yellow card of the game. Again Liverpool were looking comfortable in defence, and this was allowing forward runs from Lucas, Kuyt and Riera to provide more bodies in attack. The response from Owen Coyle was to bring on Chris Eagles, an ex-Manchester United player who drew a typically warm response from the Anfield crowd.

It was on the hour mark that Liverpool finally killed the game off with a superb third. Fernando Torres picked up the ball on the right corner of the penalty area and he slipped the ball to Gerrard who was moving at pace towards the box. With tremendous control, the skipper brought the ball from under his body to out in front of him, and he had the presence of mind to slip the ball to a completely unmarked Yossi Benayoun to slot home the simplest of goals for his second and Liverpool’s third. Phillipe Degen came on to replace Glen Johnson for the last third of the game, with the England full back looking a little fatigued after his international exertions of the past week.

With this added cushion, Liverpool took their foot off the gas somewhat, and the next ten minutes saw Burnley improving their possession statistic without ever threatening Reina’s clean sheet. Benitez brought Voronin on for Dirk Kuyt in an attempt to provide more attacking threat and hammer home the gulf in class between the sides. Soon after, Liverpool were denied a fourth by the linesman’s flag. Gerrard’s 25 yard effort was again fumbled by the Burnley goalkeeper, but as Benayoun tapped the ball home from the rebound for what he thought would be his hat-trick, he was adjudged to have drifted offside. Gerrard then again went close as he piled through the Burnley defence after a ricochet, but he chose to round the keeper rather than shoot and found the angle a little too acute, his effort hitting the outside of the post.

The final Liverpool change took place as a strangely out of sorts Torres was replaced by David Ngog up front with 15 minutes to go. The Frenchman spent the next five minutes trying to backheel his way into the hearts of the Kop, a series of flicks failing to provide the intended result by setting up more chances. Inside the last ten minutes, however, the game’s outstanding player did get his hat-trick, Benayoun finding himself the beneficiary of some more poor defending by Burnley. After a lucky rebound off the referee, Riera came forward and a series of passes between him, Voronin and Gerrard saw the ball eventually slipped forward to Benayoun. The entire Burnley defence stopped, assuming that the flag would go up for offside, little realising that Jordan had played him on. Benayoun kept his composure, however, and slotted the ball past the helpless Jensen for the icing on the Liverpool cake. Gerrard then went almost made it a five after being released by Voronin, but Jensen was equal to the effort and turned it round the post. Burnley then finally created an opportunity, Nugent was unable to keep his header down from a corner.

Andriy Voronin should then have extended the lead even further after he was sent clear for a one-on-one with Jensen. Gerrard collected the keeper’s clearance and slotted the ball through for the Ukrainian, but he was unable to direct his shot on target, instead chipping the ball wide. Two minutes of injury time went by without further incident, and the referee brought an end to a satisfactory afternoon for Liverpool.

Whilst there are still concerns over the slow starts we have experienced in most games so far this season, the signs are encouraging. We can all hope that the woeful defeat against Aston Villa was the low point of the season, and that further below-par performances can be avoided for the remainder of this period. Some major positives can be taken out of the game, though. Another mention must first be made of Yossi Benayoun, who provided yet another man of the match performance with a display of creativity, guile and skill which only enhanced the game-changing reputation he garnered for himself during the second half of last season. A second clean sheet of the campaign should also not be undervalued, as the defence will thrive only by shutting out opponents for 90 minutes and evading troubles from set-pieces that have plagued us so far this season. Whilst Liverpool would always have been expected to win the three points in this fixture, in truth the margin of victory could, and should, have been much greater, an encouraging way to go into our opening Champions League encounter with Debreceni on Wednesday evening.

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