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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Liverpool, in absence of Fab Four, rely on defensive pair to deliver the euphoria at Burnley

Klopp was without Salah and Coutinho, while Firmino was on the bench for the Premier League trip to Turf Moor.

Liverpool players celebrate after Ragnar Klavan's late winning goal against Burnley on Monday. Phil Noble / Reuters
Liverpool players celebrate after Ragnar Klavan's late winning goal against Burnley on Monday. Phil Noble / Reuters

On a day when the "Fab Four" was temporarily disbanded, Liverpool ended up grateful to a supposedly gruesome twosome.

Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan are the sort of centre-backs who have contributed to some defensive disasters. They are likely to be sidelined when Jurgen Klopp deems Virgil van Dijk ready to debut.

In the meantime, however, they combined to deliver the goal that left Liverpool feeling euphoric and with a six-point cushion on fifth-place Arsenal.

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In the 94th minute, with Burnley having seemingly seized a point, Emre Can chipped a free kick into the penalty area. Lovren rose highest. Klavan flung himself at his sidekick’s header to touch it over the line

“Is it true that it is my goal?” the Estonian asked, uncertain if he even was the match-winner. “Oh good. It was on the line so I wasn't sure.” He was more certain of another thing. “It was a crazy game,” he said.

It was. If there was a lack of drama at the start, the ending more than compensated. The narrative kept being reshaped, first one way, then the other.

The initial focus was on those who were not even playing. Philippe Coutinho and Mohamed Salah did not even travel, thigh and groin strains ruling each out.

“Phil and Mo are injured, not massively but enough for today, no chance, and at least a doubt for Everton [in the FA Cup on Friday],” Klopp said.

He shrugged off the appearance of merchandise on Barcelona’s website with the Brazilian midfielder’s name on it. “I couldn’t be less interested in anything in the world but somebody told me and I thought ‘wow’,” he added.

With Roberto Firmino beginning on the bench, only one of Liverpool’s "Fab Four" started and that seemed enough when Sadio Mane took Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross, spun and unleashed a ferocious shot that flew past Nick Pope.

“Sadio is unbelievably important for us. He is strong, quick, so many things. He scores a goal like this and it is like ‘wow,’” Klopp said, again astonished but for different reasons. Mane has been overshadowed by Coutinho, Firmino and Salah at times this season, but his manager and teammates remain appreciative of his dynamism.

“He comes into the dressing room and the whole team gives him a hand,” Klopp said. Mane’s goal threatened to be decisive. But Burnley, the lone antidote to rotation during the festive period, showed tired legs could still muster a fightback. Charlie Taylor crossed, Sam Vokes won the first header and Johann Berg Gudmundsson got the final touch.

“He was very good,” said his manager, Sean Dyche. “We were superb physically, tactically very good, particularly defensively, so there is much to be pleased with but that horrible feeling.”

There was a certain cruelty, especially as Burnley have conceded costly late goals to Arsenal and Manchester United in recent weeks.

Klopp had the opposite experience. “It was a fantastic moment,” he said. “I am so happy with the attitude and character.”

He savoured, too, a first start of the season for the “outstanding” Adam Lallana and then argued that he may not parachute Van Dijk into the side for Friday’s derby.

“No rush,” he said. “He is on fire, really wants [to play] but we have to make sure he can perform. I never thought we had a defence problem or thought we need an extra player though Virgil will help us a lot.”