Following a breathless summer of Icelandic claps, Welsh heroics and Stormzy announcing transfers like grime’s answer to Jim White, the Premier League made its return last weekend. The English top flight kicked off with Hull City humbling the champions, tight draws, Pep and Conte off to winning starts and Mourinho’s impressive United sauntering to victory on the south coast. Four goals scored by debutants, dubious penalty decisions, a double overhead kick and Gary Lineker in his boxers rounded up proceedings. A typically unpredictable weekend of action.
Week two sees Burnley play host to Liverpool in a clash originally scheduled to take place at Anfield. Redevelopments to the Main Stand have forced the Reds to play the first three games of the season away, perhaps to Jurgen Klopp’s delight given his sides tendency to travel well. Their latest away victory came in a seven goal thriller at The Emirates, as a twenty minute second half flourish sank the Gunners. Played at a frantic pace, the match perfectly encapsulated both the negatives and positive aspects of Klopps’ side.
The defensive frailties which undermined the title challenge of 13/14 remain firmly in place, with the performance of left back impersonator Alberto Moreno doing little to quell the Kopites clamoring for rear-guard investment. Exhibiting all the positional awareness of a drunk staggering home post-kebab, the Spaniard clumsily conceded a penalty, before leaving Walcott free to slot home the opener. Similarly, Henderson delivered a meek showing in the holding midfield role during a disjointed 45 minutes which left the travelling Kop frustrated, before a Coutinho beauty shunted the red machine into gear.
The opening twenty minutes of the second half displayed the dynamic and ruthless football which Klopp will strive to replicate at Turf Moor. With Coutinho in irresistible form, and the skillful pair of Lallana and Firmino looking dangerous, they may prove too much for Burnley should they start on the front foot. While outstanding at the Emirates, summer signing Sadio Mane looks set to miss out due to an injury sustained in training. His misfortune may present a window of opportunity to two attackers on the other side of the Melwood injury conveyor belt, in Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge. Both represent viable options to replace Mane, with Firmino dropping deeper.
Liverpool are likely to line up in their familiar 4-2-3-1 formation, with James Milner tipped to fill in at left back, while Joel Matip and Emre Can are back in contention following a spell on the sidelines. The fixture may have come too soon for former Burnley man Danny Ings, however, who featured for the under 23s last week. With a bolstered squad, and no European football to contend, Jurgen Klopp will have his sights set much higher than the 8th place finish of last season. Back to back away victories would represent the ideal start to the campaign, although the Clarets will be looking to register their first points of the season at Liverpools expense.
For Sean Dyche’s Burnley, the season began with a whimper. Succumbing to an 82nd minute Leroy Fer winner at the Liberty Stadium, last season’s runaway Championship winners fluffed their opening lines in their quest to secure Premier League status. That objective eluded them on their previous forays into the top division, and they’ll be hoping to bounce back and punish Liverpool in their first home game of the season.
In spite of the result, Burnley showed glimpses of promise against Swansea, as the prolific Andre Gray proved a handful for Swans’ defenders. With Ashley Barnes sidelined due to a hamstring injury, Gray is likely to start alongside Sam Vokes in a straightforward 4-4-2. The star man will feel confident that he can open his account for the season against a defence who shipped three last weekend. Indeed, goals were not hard to come by during last year’s campaign for Burnley, notching 72 times en route to the title. Dyche will be hopeful that last season’s goals can translate to the Premier League, with the form of Gray, Barnes and Vokes, as well as other notables George Boyd and Michael Keane, likely to be significant to their survival chances.
Much like fellow Championship alumni Hull City, Burnley have come under criticism during the summer for failing to dip into their pocket. In an inflated transfer market which sees mid table sides bidding large sums with ease, it can be argued that investment is key to a newly promoted sides odds of remaining in the division. After largely shopping in League One for most of the summer, as well as securing Liverpools Jon Flanagan on loan, the Clarets have finally shown signs of life in the market, smashing their transfer record to bring in Belgium international Steven Defour for £7 million from Anderlecht during the week.
Turning down a typically profitable offer from the UAE’s Al-Jazira to ply his trade at Burnley, Defour has shown that his interests lies in playing at a competitive and committed level, a factor which is sure to please Burnley fans. Having gained Champions League experience at Porto, it is a signal that they intend to better their 13/14 campaign. The new signing is in line to make his debut this weekend, and is likely to slot in next to Dean Marney, with the pair aiming to provide a stable midfield base against the marauding Merseysiders.
Burnley were impressive during the business end of last season, going 23 games unbeaten, and will need to reproduce that sort of blistering form in order to pick up crucial points this season. While they won’t expect to see much of the ball, should they frustrate Liverpool’s attackers then there is a fragile defence which they can target, particularly down the left flank.
Prediction – The last time the sides met at Turf Moor saw Raheem Sterling secure a 1-0 Boxing Day victory for Liverpool in 2014. Expect a similar outcome on Saturday, as Burnley dig in deep, but ultimately fall short with a final score of 2-0 to the visitors.