Missing: the Premier League champions. Last seen Dec. 19.
Liverpool’s grip on their title is loosening, and fast.
Their woes continued here at Anfield, their proud unbeaten home league record is gone, taken away courtesy of a 1-0 defeat at the hands of a Burnley side who delighted in their role as party-poopers, as history-makers.
Sean Dyche’s side were the only team to avoid defeat here in the Premier League last season, and they were to go one better this time around. Ashley Barnes’ penalty, seven minutes from time, gave the Clarets a famous win, their first on Merseyside since 1975 and one they celebrated accordingly.
For Liverpool, the questions are mounting. It’s now five games without a win in the league and four without scoring, their worst run in more than two decades. This side is used to breaking records, but not like this.
So relentless for so long, the wheels have come off for Jurgen Klopp’s side in recent weeks. They were title favorites a month ago, but they’re not now. Not even close.
Since smashing Crystal Palace 7-0, six days before Christmas, everything has stopped working. The goals have dried up and their confidence has evaporated. They look a shadow of the side which has swept all before them in recent seasons.
No wonder Klopp was ready to go to rumble with Sean Dyche at halftime here. No wonder his mood was as dark as the January night sky. The German looks utterly fed up at the moment, and so do his players.
It’s one thing to draw with Manchester United, anyone can do that, but Liverpool have managed to take just three points from meetings with West Brom, Newcastle, Southampton and now Burnley.
The fixture list was kind to them over the festive period and they didn’t take advantage. Their momentum was checked and they haven’t been able to get it back.
So many players are out of form. Whether it’s Sadio Mane or Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mohamed Salah or Roberto Firmino, the difference is visible. The names are the same, the performances are not.
Klopp insists fatigue is not an issue, but that only makes their issues more alarming. If they’re not tired, then what is it? Complacency? Surely not. Distraction? Maybe. Injury problems? For sure, but that excuse can’t be used forever. Whatever the reasons, they certainly aren’t very good right now.
The manager had at least tried to shake some life into his side with a surprise team selection here. Salah and Firmino were benched, with Divock Origi and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain drafted in for rare starts. Joel Matip was back in defense, but the good news was tempered by the absence of captain Jordan Henderson, missing out with a groin problem.
Liverpool’s changes didn’t have the desired effect, though. Neither Oxlade-Chamberlain nor Origi took their chance. Origi missed his, hammering against the bar when clean through on Nick Pope’s goal in the first half. Wasteful, wasteful, wasteful from the Belgian. It was to sum up his team’s night.
Salah and Firmino were summoned early in the second half and, for a short time, there was a difference. But Pope thwarted them, and their insistence on swinging balls into the Burnley penalty area ended in a predictable conclusion. Ben Mee and James Tarkowski stood firm, as the home side, not for the first time in recent weeks, simply ran out of ideas.
Then came the final twist, Barnes darted in behind Matip and was met by Alisson Becker. The striker got to the ball first and took the touch from the goalkeeper. Penalty, said referee Mike Dean. Barnes, a pest all night, fired home from the spot.
Liverpool tried in vain to rouse themselves, but it was too late. They sent Alisson up for two late corners and asked Takumi Minamino to save them. He couldn’t.
The damage was done — both tonight and, probably, in terms of their title challenge too.