Liverpool maintain early-season form in pursuit of elusive Premier League title
BURNLEY, England -- Liverpool go into the first international break as Premier League leaders after their 3-0 victory at Burnley set a club record of 13 consecutive top-flight wins. Having come within a point of ending a 29-year wait for title glory last season, Jurgen Klopp and his players have simply picked up where they left off as they seek to be crowned England's best.
While a strong start to the campaign was predicted for the champions of Europe who, along with Manchester City are operating at levels to which the rest of the division cannot get close, it is the way they have hurdled their obstacles that is most noteworthy.
On Friday, Klopp warned what an arduous setting Turf Moor can be -- "It's not planning a holiday when you go to Burnley. It's planning the hardest work you can imagine and that's what we try to be ready for." -- but the following evening his team made a tricky away test in the league look elementary.
The opening half-hour followed the usual script, with Liverpool having to grind against well-organised, direct and uncomfortable opponents, but thereafter a four-minute spell brought two goals as Klopp's men asserted their dominance. First, Chris Wood deflected in Trent Alexander-Arnold's cross, then brilliant work from Roberto Firmino led to a fantastic Sadio Mane finish.
Firmino added a third with 10 minutes left and Liverpool reclaimed first place following Man City's 4-0 win against Brighton earlier in the day.
Post-match, Burnley boss Sean Dyche credited Klopp for creating a balanced group, capable of marrying fluid football with a phenomenal work ethic.
"They were very clinical and very good in transition as we know they are," Dyche said. "When they get their moments, they hurt you. And they're a strong defensive unit too; Virgil van Dijk has made a massive difference, not just with his own quality but the effect he has on those around him."
The "mentality monsters" tag, bestowed upon his squad by Klopp last season, continues to resonate in the new campaign. Liverpool have four league wins from four -- they also claimed the UEFA Super Cup -- despite losing Alisson, who was named UEFA goalkeeper of the season on Thursday, in the first half of their opening game.
The Brazil international sustained a calf injury against Norwich, which thrust Adrian between the posts just days after he arrived at the club. With the Spaniard building match sharpness and cohesion with his new teammates on the job, Liverpool then dealt with long travel, hot temperatures and Chelsea intensity to win a penalty shootout in Istanbul.
Three days later, the build-up to a trip to Southampton saw concern over the fitness of Adrian, who picked up an ankle problem after being hurt by a spectator during celebrations in Turkey. He passed a late fitness test, but ensured the game had a nervy finish when his clearance ricocheted into the net off Danny Ings' shin.
No matter. Liverpool survived Saints' late onslaught, then moved on to face a different challenge a week later when Arsenal arrived at Anfield playing a diamond midfield, a system Klopp had not seen Gunners boss Unai Emery use before. Arsenal squeezed the centre of the pitch, opting to allow freedom on the flanks with the confidence that they could deal with Liverpool's crosses into the box.
In contrast to their recent visits to the stadium, Arsenal held their own in the game's early stages. However, as with most tactics adopted against the league's pacesetters, once Liverpool worked things out, the opposition was left on the canvas. They will not be the last to suffer such a fate as opponents struggle to land substantial title blows upon the big two.
Klopp's side have yet to hit their optimum level, but are two points clear of Pep Guardiola's juggernaut heading into the FIFA break. Indeed, things are actually going so smoothly for Liverpool that this 3-0 victory was not enough for Mane, who reacted furiously after being substituted because Mohamed Salah had not slid a simple pass to him for another goal.
"There are so many different things to be happy about in the games and there are still space for improvement, which is cool," Klopp said. "If somebody would have asked me four weeks ago, if I think the start we've had is possible, I would have said, 'Probably not'. Now it happened.
"So now we have to pray and hope again that they all come back healthy after the break and then the most intense period of the season starts. In September, I think we have five away games and one home game; interesting. So we have to travel a lot and be spot on."
The opening weeks of the campaign have seen Liverpool's players show Klopp their commitment to be just that.