BURNLEY, December 26 – Raheem Sterling scored the winner as Liverpool won 1-0 at Burnley on Friday to end a three-game winless run and keep their opponents in the Premier League relegation zone.
It was a far from convincing performance by Brendan Rodgers’s side and the outcome was tough on a Burnley team who lost at home for the first time in five outings.
But the result was all that mattered for Liverpool, whose position of 10th in the Premier League on Christmas Day was their lowest since 1992.
And it came thanks to Sterling, who, in the absence of the injured Daniel Sturridge and with the returning Mario Balotelli being trusted only with a place on the bench, is currently being asked to lead Liverpool’s attack.
The 20-year-old had not scored in the league since September, but his superbly taken sixth goal of the season, 17 minutes into the second half, at least edged
Liverpool closer to the top-four place Rodgers believes they are still capable of securing.
The last time Liverpool had visited Turf Moor, in 2010, a facile 4-0 win confirmed Burnley’s relegation back to the Championship at the first time of asking.
But this time around, the Lancashire club look far better equipped to handle the top flight and in striker Danny Ings have a potential star in the making.
The England Under-21 international was instrumental in a dominant first-half performance by Sean Dyche’s side, as Liverpool were made to look nothing like a team heading back in the right direction.
The three-man defence preferred by Rodgers in recent games was badly exposed, particularly down Liverpool’s left side, where Mamadou Sakho and Lazar Markovic, who looked out of place as a wing-back, were targeted time and time again.
Liverpool also had to make an early change in goal, with Simon Mignolet, left out for the previous three games, replacing the injured Brad Jones after a quarter of an hour.
– Mignolet mistakes –
Moments earlier, Jones had been only a spectator as Ings shot against the foot of a post.
From virtually Mignolet’s first touch, the Belgium international allowed Ings to charge down his attempted clearance, which did little to help bring any calm to Rodgers’ jittery rearguard.
Burnley’s energy and clever use of the ball frequently had Liverpool on the back foot and Ashley Barnes and George Boyd both threatened with efforts that went over the top.
Liverpool had offered little at the other end, despite the darting runs of Sterling, and it should have been the home side who led at the break.
Scott Arfield went close when his goal-bound volley was diverted just wide following a corner via a vital toe from Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva.
Rodgers made a change at the start of the second half, but did not alter his formation, as midfielder Emre Can replaced Kolo Toure in the back three.
It did little to add any authority to Liverpool’s performance, but in Sterling they always have a potential match-winner.
The England international has not done his talent justice with sufficient goals this season, but when his side needed him to deliver, he duly did.
From Philippe Coutinho’s lofted pass, Sterling sprinted away, rounded goalkeeper Tom Heaton, and finished calmly from a diminishing angle.
Burnley must have feared such an outcome after not being able to score themselves.
Their last hope of any reward disappeared when on-loan Manchester United defender Michael Keane headed into the side-netting from a Kieran Trippier cross following another mistake by Mignolet.