Burnley 0-2 Liverpool: Núñez and Jota sends Reds top of table

Darwin Núñez opens the scoring at Turf Moor. Photograph: John Powell/Liverpool FC/Getty Images

It somehow took until the 90th minute for Liverpool to put the result beyond doubt when Diogo Jota fired into the bottom corner to send his side top amid a collection of missed chances. There was a chasm of quality between them and Burnley, as one further proved their credentials as title challengers while the other is set for a battle at the wrong end of the table.

The only surprising element about Liverpool’s victory at Turf Moor, their eighth in nine trips to Burnley, was the fact the margin was not greater. Poor finishing, the intervention of the referee, Paul Tierney, and James Trafford’s reflexes kept things respectable.

Vincent Kompany was on the scoresheet 10 years ago when Liverpool last lost on Boxing Day. There was little doubt of the victor at Turf Moor as the home defence backed off Harvey Elliott early on, allowing him to run through and shoot from the edge of the area, which Trafford did well to save.

Lessons, as has been the case all season for Burnley, were not learned and Darwin Núñez was left in space on the edge of the box, allowing him to calmly pick out the corner after neat work by Cody Gakpo. The Uruguay striker is more consistently showing why Liverpool invested so heavily in him: not only did he execute his shot with precision but his effort to reach the spot from where he scored deserves merit because only seconds before he had been clattered by Dara O’Shea in the buildup.

The attacking talent available to Jürgen Klopp made it an inevitability that Burnley were in for a tough evening but they did not help themselves. Trafford needed to be on high alert at all stages as proved by a first-time jab from Mohamed Salah that few could have anticipated. The shot looked nonchalant but was packed with verve, resulting in the goalkeeper tipping over.

Commendable is one way of describing Burnley’s desire to pass out from the back but ill-advised might be more accurate. They often caused their own problems and Jordan Beyer created unnecessary tension when his pass into midfield went straight to Ryan Gravenberch, who played it to Núñez who should have doubled his tally but was quickly closed down by the goalkeeper and his backheel to Salah was intercepted.

It was the first time Salah, Núñez and Gakpo had started as a front three for Liverpool but there was clear understanding between the trio. Each knew one another’s runs and movement as they repeatedly opened up the Burnley defence, a sign of the confidence running through Liverpool’s squad.

Diogo Jota celebrates after securing victory for Liverpool with his 90th-minute goal. Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters

Few defences would have been able to cope with Liverpool’s interplay as first-time passes fizzed between midfield and attack, opening up space in the final third to utilise. By the half-hour mark, Liverpool had notched seven shots on target, the seventh could have resulted in the second goal, only for Tierney to generously adjudge that Núñez fouled Charlie Taylor in the box prior to Gakpo finding the net. VAR checked but accepted the view of the referee.

Salah hit the bar after a Wataru Endo pass over the top allowed him to run into space from where he struck a bouncing ball. Liverpool were in full control of every aspect of the match, accepting the festive generosity of the Burnley backline. Trafford will have been pleased to see the woodwork joining his one-man mission to keep the score down, making seven saves before the break.

Liverpool started without Dominik Szoboszlai and Alexis Mac Allister but this squad is all on the same page. Endo, Elliott and Gravenberch were slick, too good for the Burnley midfield pairing. Considering Burnley’s position and Liverpool’s quality in possession, it would have made sense for Kompany to have a third central midfield to combat their opponents but they aided the visitors.

The officials were helping Burnley after what felt like the inevitable second seemed to arrive when Elliott poked a Gravenberch cross in by the post. There was nothing Trafford could do, especially as he was potentially left unsighted by the offside Salah, although even with a clear view he would have been unlikely to react in time. Tierney was told to review the footage and the one-goal advantage was maintained.

While the margin was a solitary goal there was a chance Burnley could sneak an equaliser, although the hour mark passed without Alisson being troubled. Their confidence grew after the second disallowed goal but the hosts lacked creativity and rarely troubled the Liverpool backline. Johann Berg Gudmundsson, however, should have done better after Wilson Odobert tricked his way into the box and lifted a cross to the back post which was headed over by the Iceland winger. Burnley’s ninth home defeat in 10 matches was confirmed by Jota when his powerful drive defeated Trafford to relieve the tension.