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 By Steven Kelly

Klopp's Liverpool growing as resurgent Reds learn to tough things out

Monday's 2-1 win at Burnley extended Liverpool's unbeaten run to 16 matches, equalling a run at the beginning of season 2008-09 under Rafael Benitez.

They'd have remained unbeaten without Ragnar Klavan's late winner but the goal symbolised the Reds' new-found confidence and courage.

Another narrow win at home to Leicester on Dec. 30 was celebrated just as raucously by the fans. Both games hint at Liverpool having what it takes to "tough it out" when strength of character was thought to be lacking before.

Burnley's equaliser almost ruined the day, not only for the club as a whole but the central defensive partnership of Klavan and Dejan Lovren who had been solid throughout.

On many occasions this season, reasonable doubts were expressed about defensive stability and how Liverpool could never close out a game like this.

Johann Gudmundsson's equaliser looked to have proved it beyond doubt but two headers from the central defenders at the other end ensured it mattered little. It was the most apt of finales.

Jurgen Klopp rotated again, with changes enforced this time by minor knocks to Mohamed Salah and Philippe Coutinho. It seems unlikely Klopp would willingly drop both for a match against Burnley, who have done incredibly well this season.

From the defensive performances in general it could also be gleaned that Virgil van Dijk is already paying back his £75 million fee without even kicking a ball.

Most people highlight squad rotation for its physical benefits but competition for places is arguably a more important factor at any club trying to win things.

Players want their name to be first on the teamsheet especially for high profile matches. Anyone phoning in a performance will find themselves on the bench or maybe ostracised completely.

At times during Klopp's reign at Liverpool it's looked as though some players couldn't be motivated as there were simply no alternatives in their position.

The performance at Burnley was nowhere near Liverpool's best this season but it was enough to get the job done, particularly on one day's rest after the Leicester win.

Sadio Mane has been put in the shade by Salah this season. If anything he's trying too hard to impress after some extravagant attempts to repeat his flying kick goal against Spartak Moscow.

A superb flick to set up Salah against Leicester was followed by a fine goal against Burnley. Any worries the Senegalese international was losing his touch were eased.

Van Dijk must become the defence's chief organiser and necessary bully, urging everyone not to switch off for a second. Nobody's really done that since Jamie Carragher.

That will be helpful to Joe Gomez, whose involvement in goals conceded at West Ham, Arsenal and now Burnley left something to be desired.

Salah can miss chance after chance but still be a hero after converting two against Leicester. Defenders don't have that luxury. Unfair perhaps, but that's the way it is. Mistakes are costly.

Goalkeepers continue to be rotated, though fitness is hardly an issue there. It's more likely Klopp still hopes one of Simon Mignolet or Loris Karius can make the position their own with a sequence of commanding performances but the hope seems rather forlorn. Will change come next summer with a new addition?

Liverpool are well-placed in the battle for the top four after a productive festive period.

Central midfield is arguably Liverpool's second weakest position in terms of squad strength. Jordan Henderson is sadly becoming injury prone, while Georginio Wijnaldum sometimes goes a whole game without making a single impression upon it.

James Milner may be understandably slowing down during his later years and while Emre Can's performance can often be dynamic -- he won the free kick that helped seal victory at Burnley -- it looks likely he'll announce his departure from the club soon.

Thankfully, Klopp is able to call upon Adam Lallana again, despite his being understandably rusty at Burnley. He's been a vital player for the German and there's no reason he can't be again. Naby Keita is also due to arrive this summer from Leipzig.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's first team opportunities are increasing, often in the role he prefers, and the originally perplexing £40m fee is making more sense game by game. Up front, Liverpool have great options and while Dominic Solanke continues to work hard for no reward he can simply come along at his own pace while the so-called "Fab Four" hopefully continues its impressive form.

Though the Reds have one less league point than at this stage last year there's little doubt they look in better shape than they did in early 2017.

Barring a similar collapse -- they won just two games in January and February last year -- this can still be a season of huge promise for the Reds.

With a squad that's proved it can handle fixture congestion, the next two months eases up a little on that score.

Liverpool can look upon 2017 as a year of real improvement. Fans will hope they can repeat that claim in 12 months' time.

Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.

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