Maybe Burnley is the place to come to celebrate Christmas after all. Liverpoolmanager Jurgen Klopp had made a tongue-in-cheek jibe at a recent fan event to suggest that nobody would want to spend Boxing Day here.
But as it ended up, Burnley was the scene for quite the festive feast for Liverpool’s fans and players. Those travelling Kopites were in fine voice, serenading their stars and toasting to not just any victory, but one that sends them top of the table for 48 hours at least.
Diogo Jota’s stoppage-time goal added to Darwin Nunez’s strike after six minutes as Liverpool returned to winning ways following back-to-back league draws. And to many fans, there was no place they would rather be on Boxing Day than in that jubilant away end.
That sentiment was not contagious to the home fans, though. At times Turf Moor felt like Turf Morgue. It would be a stretch to describe the atmosphere as frustrated or annoyed about the performance, it was just silence – Vincent Kompany’s side failed to lay a glove on Liverpool.
It would be strange to rule that the Reds were below their best level as Klopp’s men could have easily racked up a high score, with players taking it in turns to miss clear-cut chances. But on another day, Burnley might have nicked an equaliser and punished Liverpool’s profligacy.
By the time Johann Berg Gudmunsson headed over the bar from short range in Burnley’s only real chance, though, the Clarets were very lucky to still be in the game. Liverpool, 1-0 up at the time, had seen two goals disallowed and missed a multitude of clear-cut chances.
Aside from a five-minute flurry in the second half, Kompany’s men offered no reason to suggest they will put up any fight at all in the battle for survival. Instead, the relegation-threatened team spent the day acting as extras in a show of shooting practice for Liverpool’s forwards.
Burnley’s lack of defensive steel was welcomed by out-of-form Nunez, who might have put ‘scoring a goal’ top of his Christmas list. He got his reward with a fine, side-footed finish to end a goal drought that had started after November 2 and lasted for 12 matches.
The Uruguayan started the move, was clattered but got back to his feet and made a late charge towards the penalty area, where Cody Gakpo pulled the ball back to Nunez to simply pass into the far corner. After some bad misses and rushed shots this season, it was a composed finish.
Young goalkeeper James Trafford did not stand a chance with Nunez’s goal but the star of England’s Under 21s triumph put in a near-perfect display from there on, thwarting Ryan Gravenberch, Mohamed Salah and Wataru Endo with full-stretch saves.
Burnley were often the architects of their own downfall as sloppiness led to more Liverpool chances, with Jordan Beyer almost gifting Nunez a second goal by losing the ball. Vitinho also lost sight of a long pass and allowed Cody Gakpo a good opening.
Salah hit the bar and saw another tipped over by Trafford. Gakpo rifled the ball into the net on 28 minutes as Liverpool players took turns to test Trafford but Burnley were bailed out by a somewhat soft foul in the build-up, with Nunez adjudged to have bundled over Charlie Taylor.
The location of the dugouts at Burnley make managers more susceptible to a bit of lip from fans as they are required to march across the pitch at half-time and Kompany was the victim of a smattering of boos from home supporters in the Barnfield Construction Stand at the break.
Those fans were finally spurned into life on 55 minutes, though, when referee Paul Tierney ruled out what would have been a second Liverpool goal to end the contest. It came after a zapping move starring Harvey Elliott and Gravenberch, but Salah was interfering with play and offside.
Burnley’s players replicated the new-found energy on the terraces as, all of a sudden, they were quicker to loose balls and played with some belief in possession. Wilson Odobert was the pick of the bunch, and the Frenchman nearly created an equaliser against the run of play.
The French winger, signed from Troyes in the summer, dashed past Trent Alexander-Arnold and hung the ball in the air for substitute Gudmunsson, but the experienced Iceland international headed wide at the back post with Alisson scrambling across his goal line.
But any thoughts that the relegation strugglers were going to earn an undeserved point with a late goal were dashed in stoppage time when substitute Jota, with one of his first touches of the ball, picked up possession on the corner of the six-yard box and drilled home a second.
It meant that Klopp, for all his grumbles about the Christmas schedule in English football, continues his 100 per cent record of winning every match on Boxing Day with Liverpool, scoring 19 goals and conceding just one in those games.
Unlike previous years, such as thrashing second-placed Leicester 4-0 in a statement display, Burnley were a feeble opposition and not too many lessons can be learned.
But at the halfway stage, Klopp and Co are going well and rule Liverpool out of the title race at your peril.