I THINK we’ve got to see this one as a bit of a free hit. These games, coming tumbling on top of each other as they do, can become lotteries. Liverpool have done well enough over this festive programme — wins over Bournemouth, Swansea and Leicester and the draw with Arsenal — that a draw at Burnley would be no disaster.
Don’t get me wrong, we must target the win, but just 48 hours after a draining battle with Leicester, that is not a straightforward ask.
At the time of writing, it looks like Mo Salah will miss out. He may not have started anyway, but now he may not even make the bench. Go to church Sunday morning. Pray that Mo’s injury is not serious. Salah is just so good right now that he’s created a new anxiety in me. I now worry about him being match fit, morning, noon and night.
If Mo doesn’t start at Burnley, Sadio Mane surely does. There’s a quiet consensus that he’s not playing well these days. I disagree. I think he is consistently immaculate in virtually everything asked of him. The difference for him this season is that he’s now a support act for the Mo Salah show, rather than being the main attraction himself. Perhaps a return to top billing at Turf Moor will suit him.
Oxlade-Chamberlain would be the next near certain pick given that he didn’t start against Leicester. Klopp will look Coutinho and Firmino in the eyes and ask them if they’re fit enough to go again. Salah’s injury may be a warning that apparent invincibility is often a thin veneer. We can’t be risking pushing players past a safe threshold. Adam Lallana will be tugging at his manager’s elbow reminding that he’s a tempting option. A fully-fit Lallana would be a shoo-in but the rehabilitating version may not be trusted.
In central midfield Gini Wijnaldum will expect an instant recall. The clever money will be on Emre Can to partner him. Can’s midfield accomplice against Leicester, James Milner, might expect to be asked to return (reticently) to a left-back role. The current incumbent, Andy Robertson, has simply played too many games and wants resting.
Trent Alexander might have been disappointed not to make the cut at Anfield on Saturday and is likely to lose out to Joe Gomez again unless Klopp chooses to prioritise freshness for freshness sake. Similarly the central defensive partnership of Matip and Lovren may start again, though Ragnar Klavan will feel he is more than worthy of a recall.
The most intriguing call the manager may make pertains to the goalkeeper position . He reprieved Mignolet by picking him against Swansea after his poor showing at Arsenal. Klopp though may have revealed his longer-term hand in preferring Loris Karius against Leicester. Karius was composed, if largely untested, and might quietly expect to keep his place.
Burnley will be awkward opponents. They are the Premier League’s surprise package this season, and take some beating. They nearly won at Man United recently but they also took a home hammering against Spurs and didn’t inspire in a 0-0 at Huddersfield on Saturday. They are eminently beatable by a fresh focused Liverpool but whether they will face one remains to be seen.
The key for the Reds may be not to feel the need to over force matters. Better to stay compact, concentrated and ready to exploit any over adventurous forward forays by the home side.
Liverpool have largely negotiated this incredibly congested phase of the season with purpose and some style. It would be sweet to jump this final hurdle with a bit of aplomb and set our stall for the big push in the new year.
Expected team: Karius; Gomez, Klavan, Lovren, Milner; Can, Wijnaldum, Chamberlain; Coutinho, Firmino, Mane.
Kick off: 3pm
Referee: Roger East.
Odds: Burnley 11-2, Draw 16-5, Liverpool 1-2.