EPL

Liverpool v Burnley: Salah and Firmino benched as Matip returns

By Sports Desk January 21, 2021

Liverpool have been handed a boost by the return of Joel Matip for their meeting with Burnley, but Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino must settle for a place on the bench.

A run of four Premier League games without a win has seen the Reds drop down to fourth, six points behind leaders Manchester United, ahead of Thursday's clash at Anfield.

Jurgen Klopp's side have scored just once in that run and have not managed a goal in any of their last three outings.

Their talisman Salah has summed up their struggles, with the Egypt star having failed to score in any of his last four league appearances – his current drought lasting 365 minutes.

Only once has Salah gone longer without a goal for Liverpool and the 28-year-old has been rotated out by Klopp, alongside fellow forward Firmino.

Since Salah joined Liverpool in 2017, they have won four of their five Premier League games when both he and Firmino have been absent from the starting XI, including two wins over Burnley.

Sadio Mane is the only member of Liverpool's first-choice front three to start, with Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri named alongside the Senegal forward.

Along with Firmino, Mane has netted four times in his last four league appearances against Burnley.

Further back, Jordan Henderson misses out through what Liverpool described as a "minor fitness issue", with Georginio Wijnaldum named as captain.

Under Klopp, Liverpool's league win rate without Henderson featuring is 56 per cent, down from 66 when the England international plays.

The main positive for the Reds comes at the back, with Matip – who went off injured in a 1-1 draw with West Brom on December 27 – joining Fabinho in the centre of defence.

Matip and Fabinho will be up against Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood, who has only played more games (seven) and minutes (435) against Southampton without scoring in the Premier League than he has against Liverpool (six games, 400 minutes).

Indeed, Burnley have failed to score in six of their last seven away Premier League fixtures, with their only goal in this run an own goal from Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and the Clarets have lost their last two matches.

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    N'Golo Kante has put fitness worries behind him and is back to doing the work of two people at Chelsea, winning the approval of new boss Thomas Tuchel in the process.

    Kante did not start any of Tuchel's first five Premier League games in charge at Stamford Bridge and was also restricted to a 16-minute cameo in the 1-0 Champions League win at Atletico Madrid.

    However, Thursday's victory by the same scoreline over Liverpool was Kante's third straight appearance in a Premier League XI and he turned in a typically all-action display.

    The 29-year-old France international gained possession 11 times at Anfield, more than any other Chelsea player, while his 14 duels contested were only bettered by Jorginho and Timo Werner (both 16).

    "Super big," Tuchel replied when asked how important it was to have Kante back to his best.

    "It was clear from the first second in training what this guy is capable of doing. It's unbelievable.

    "You see his intensity and in the physical report after matches, you think they maybe tracked two people and put them into one sheet.

    "It's unbelievable in terms of what he delivers, in terms of intensity, in terms of ball recoveries and devotion to a group. This is world class, the highest level, and very, very happy that he's in our squad."

    Despite not enjoying the most memorable season of his career, the two-time Premier League champion and World Cup winner has made more recoveries (200), tackles (76) and interceptions (57) than any other Chelsea midfielder across all competitions.

    Tuchel has an enviable array of options to deploy in the deeper central midfield positions, with the passing accuracy offered by Mateo Kovacic (91.5 per cent) and Jorginho (89) outstripping the less-smooth Kante (86.6).

    These figures widen from Tuchel's first game in charge against Wolves on January 27 onwards, with Kovacic and Jorginho almost identical on 91.5 and 91.3 respectively, while Kante is back on 82.5 per cent. Indeed, no Chelsea player ceded position more frequently than the former Leicester City man (18) against Liverpool.

    However, Kante brings so much to Chelsea in those aspects more associated with his game.

    Despite having restricted game time under Tuchel so far, his per 90 minutes average for recoveries (9), tackles (4.6), interceptions (2.5) and duels won (7.4) are the best of any Chelsea midfielder during this period.

    For context, none of his other counterparts average more than one interception per game, while Jorginho's average of 2.7 tackles is the next best behind Kante.

    "He comes from injury, he will not now play every game 90 minutes before we arrive at the international break," Tuchel said, adding a note of caution.

    "We have to manage him, we do this together with our physical coaches. We have to take care of him so he arrives fit for the international break and, when he comes back, I hope we can rely on him in every game.

    "I'm very, very happy to have him, Kova and Jorginho in defensive midfield. This is exactly the level we need in games of the highest level. I'm super happy with all of them."

    This competition for places is something Tuchel has already seen to be paying dividends.

    "I feel an unbelievable attitude towards training and towards games, I feel the bond between players that is necessary," he added.

    "In the whole world where football is played, the teams that stand out are the teams that fight for each other, who are ready to sacrifice, who are happy for each other, who push each other from the bench. This is exactly what I found."

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    Flick was also asked about the situation of backup goalkeeper Alexander Nubel, who arrived on a free transfer from Schalke last year having established himself as one of the world's most-promising young goalkeepers.

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    Mohamed Salah has not given Jurgen Klopp sufficient reason to sit down for "a proper talk" about his Liverpool future, the Reds boss insists.

    Egypt forward Salah has been a key figure at Anfield since joining from Roma in June 2017, winning the Champions League and Premier League under the guidance of manager Klopp.

    This season has seen speculation that Salah may not be as happy with Liverpool as they are with him, amid rumours he could consider leaving the club.

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    Asked how he would stave off any problem with Salah, Klopp said: "Talking, that's how it always is. I'm not even sure if this situation is now the reason for a proper talk about it.

    "Because there were different things. We are 1-0 down, that makes no player happy, you go off and you cannot react how you react in different ways because you are not happy about the game.

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    Salah has had 16 shots of which seven have been on target across his last seven appearances, having had 26 attempts and 13 on target in the seven previous games, 

    That suggests form reflective of Liverpool's overall decline since the turn of the year.

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    And there he has a strong point, with Salah already bagging 24 goals in 37 games during this campaign, compared to 23 in 48 last term.

    He is set to finish well short of the 44 in 52 games he achieved in 2017-18, his first season with the Reds, but so far this campaign he is matching his 'big chance' conversion rate from that season.

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    Klopp suggested giving Salah a rest on Thursday could benefit Liverpool in games to come, as he repudiated any suggestion of unrest in their relationship.

    "I could have changed other players as well, that's true," Klopp said.

    "It was more about who we bring on. He looked for me like he felt intensity. He probably saw it completely different. That's absolutely fine.

    "Half an hour without Mo Salah, maybe that's the reason why he can play on Sunday as well. We make these decisions in the moment, and not with any thoughts in behind.

    "The problem is you have to explain it after the game. These kind of stories, so far they didn't happen. I cannot guarantee for the future for all time that it will never happen, but these kind of discussions, we never had.

    "I make a decision, the boys accept it. We came together to the top and we came together to the point here, and we will sort it together.

    "I cannot not change a player just because it creates a story afterwards. You do it because you think in the moment it's right and you are allowed to judge it afterwards if it was right."

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