Liverpool’s Diogo Jota and Sadio Mané sink Burnley and delight returning fans – The Guardian
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Jürgen Klopp exited with a beaming smile for Harvey Elliott, the teenager who stepped seamlessly into Premier League life and Liverpool’s midfield, and for the crowd that made victory a shared, greater experience once again. “We’ve missed you like crazy,” was how the Liverpool manager ended his programme notes. His players made up for lost time with an impressive win against Burnley.
Sean Dyche’s team benefited twice from a cold and silent Anfield during lockdown, ruining Liverpool’s record unbeaten home run last season and their 100% winning streak when lifting the title the season before. This was a case of business returning to normal. Goals from Diogo Jota and Sadio Mané secured victory while Virgil van Dijk and Joël Matip brought assurance and comfort in central defence. Burnley players sportingly lined up after the final whistle to welcome back Van Dijk after his lengthy injury absence, but in truth they will be glad to see the back of him until they meet again at Turf Moor.
Before Liverpool’s first home game of the season there was a moving tribute to the former players, management staff, directors and fans who have died in the 17 months since a capacity crowd was last inside Anfield. Ray Clemence, Ian St John and Gérard Houllier were among those remembered and celebrated as the Kop raised a 97 mosaic in memory of Andrew Devine, the 97th person unlawfully killed as a result of Hillsborough and who died recently having been cared for by his devoted family for 32 years.
Klopp gave a first Premier League start to Elliott, the gifted 18-year-old midfielder who spent last season on loan at Blackburn, and was able to hand Jordan Henderson a first Liverpool start since he suffered a groin injury in February. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Fabinho were absent for personal reasons, the latter’s father having died in the week.
Liverpool players celebrate Diogo Jota’s opening goal. Photograph: Alex Dodd/CameraSport/Getty Images
Elliott was welcomed on to the Premier League stage by a scything foul from Josh Brownhill. Another late blow soon arrived from the otherwise immaculate Dwight McNeil, whose invention and energy on the left carried a constant threat for Burnley. McNeil had an early shot cleared off the line by Trent Alexander-Arnold – though Chris Wood was offside in the buildup – and almost created an opener for the New Zealand striker with a delightful cross to the near post. Alisson pushed away Wood’s clean header, Naby Keïta cleared at the second attempt and, within seconds, Liverpool illustrated the fine margins at the highest level by edging ahead.
After three underwhelming seasons at Anfield Keïta has to deliver this term. This display – sharp, creative, industrious – demonstrated he knows that too. Having stifled Burnley at one end, the midfielder found Konstantinos Tsimikas in space at the other. Andy Robertson’s replacement at left-back swept a precision cross into the heart of the visitors’ penalty area and Jota, darting in front of Ben Mee, steered a glancing header beyond Nick Pope.
Liverpool, urged by Klopp to press higher up the pitch, were close to doubling their lead when countering from a Burnley free-kick. Keïta and Elliott combined to find Mohamed Salah, who stretched Pope from the edge of the area. Moments later Salah did beat Pope, and far too easily, after Elliott pierced the Burnley defence with a perfectly weighted pass into the unmarked Egypt international. The celebrations of Salah’s 99th Premier League goal were cut short by VAR; not even this season’s thicker lines could save him from an offside decision.
Burnley were opened up again when Alexander-Arnold clipped a glorious pass into Mané, who volleyed over at full stretch, but continued to cause problems of their own. Wood was just unable to set up Ashley Barnes when released into the area by McNeil. The visitors were clearly under instruction to hit the heart of Liverpool’s defence with first-time crosses and, for the most part, Alisson handled high balls comfortably. In first half injury time, however, he was beaten to Matt Lowton’s long free-kick by James Tarkowski and was relieved to see the defender’s towering header sail wide of his empty goal. Barnes swept Lowton’s low cross into the roof of Alisson’s net early in the second half before his joy in front of the Kop was curtailed by a clear offside call.
The quality of Liverpool’s attacking play improved considerably after the interval and Burnley’s hopes were gradually extinguished. Van Dijk volleyed wide from a corner, McNeil blocked Salah’s goal-bound shot after Elliott had delivered another excellent ball and Pope knew little about the Mané effort that deflected for a corner off his chest. The threat of a second was mounting and arrived in some style when Van Dijk sprayed a ball out to Elliott hugging the right wing. The teenager found Alexander-Arnold, who flicked a first time pass behind the Burnley defence for Mané to beat Pope with a convincing finish.
Barnes should have rewarded Burnley’s endeavour with a consolation goal but, played clean through by substitute Jay Rodriguez, he was denied by the advancing Alisson as Liverpool polished their win with a clean sheet.