I love it when I’m proved right.
As I was driving home on a rainy Monday afternoon along the A50 past Derby, the dulcet tones of Adrian Durham and Darren Gough washing over me, the Drive Time duo made a claim that made me snort in derision (again!). Don’t get me wrong – their three-hour slot is my favourite TalkSPORT programme, with Durham’s propensity to spark heated debates and Gough’s ability to provide a more dispassionate, measured view providing genuine entertainment and comfort for the weary traveller.
Not on this occasion. Originally, at the start of the programme, Durham had promised to review the Burnley vs Brighton game (0-0 at Turf Moor, on April 28th; a game of little incident) as he had become ‘bored’ of talking about Wenger and Arsenal.
My ears pricked up. ‘Brilliant’, I thought – maybe I was wrong about radio journalism and they do give a toss about the rest of the league. A national radio host taking the time out of his schedule to highlight the very thing I am interested in, talking about the first two teams I have turned my attention to in this series. ‘This second article will be a copy and paste job’, I naively mused; ‘add a little bit of critique on their arguments, throw in a few bits of research on the summer transfer business of The Clarets, rate their season and move on to the next issue. Job done.’
Their focus, however, consisted of (rightly) slamming the game for what it was, but crucially, using it as evidence to substantiate the work of both clubs throughout the entire season! ‘Boring’ was the verdict. Out of hand dismissal of Dyche’s chances of being named manager of the season came next. They continued by mocking the notion of ‘little Burnley’ representing the Premier League in next year’s Europa League. And then they were done, moving on to their next feature.
I was stunned! Now I’m not going to sit here and argue over the game in question – by all accounts it wasn’t a thriller and I’m not about to expound the virtues of a 0-0 draw at the end of the season. But the fact remains that the duo had just dismissed the colossal achievements of a manager and squad that – at that time – needed a sole point from three games to secure European football for only the third time in their history. They didn’t even mention Brighton!
So – back to the drawing board it is for me! Luckily though, the entire episode has proven my assertion that the world of football is attack-crazy, and it has allowed me to go in-depth into a team that I have really enjoyed watching this year, so the incident wasn’t too bitter a pill to swallow…
Burnley in the Premier League, 2017-18
The below table really puts Burnley’s achievements into context. To find themselves behind only the traditional top 6, well ahead of ‘new money’ Everton and a handy seven points clear of the 2015/16 Champions, Leicester City, Burnley’s season has to be considered the ‘best of the rest’.
On the face of it, Burnley’s rise to 7th in the table has been as baffling as it has been impressive.
Did anyone really think back in August ‘17 that a side that lost its best defender to Everton (Michael Keane), its first-choice keeper to a near season-ending injury (Tom Heaton) and one that is led by a striker bought from an ailing Leeds United (Chris Wood) would be able to achieve European football? I seriously doubt it, and I think the mismanagement of other sides that have failed to match their club’s expectations has played a fundamental role in Burnley’s success.
The last thing I want to do, however, is to take anything away from their achievements, and it really does warm my heart to see them in this position, particularly when you compare the make-up of the club with Brighton (click here to read my analysis of their season).
Burnley find themselves at the next stage of development from The Seagulls, having experienced a natural evolution of a team that has escaped the Championship, secured their top-flight status for the second year running and looked to kick on in a financially stable manner. Without sacrificing their principles I might add.
So, let’s get stuck in!
Sean Dyche is an interesting character. For example, does anyone else think his team talks include the threat of a stab wound if you don’t track back from midfield? Food for thought. Dyche has been an immovable object at the club and Burnley, like Brighton, are a club that should be commended for resisting the urge to pull the trigger and issue the manager his P45 during the more difficult periods.
Dyche replaced Bournemouth-bound Eddie Howe in October 2012 and won the club promotion to the Premier League in 2013/14. Burnley were promptly relegated before returning the following year as Championship winners to finish 16th, six points clear of the drop, ensuring consecutive top-flight seasons for the first time since 1975/76.
It’s clear from this that the work done by Dyche and his staff is of the highest quality, yet this season they’ve been even better. Dyche’s nomination for Manger of the Year was completely deserved, and I find it very surprising that his name has only been linked to one ‘bigger’ club (Everton, this season.)
Their list of results is impressive; having beaten Chelsea (3-2 at Stamford Bridge), Everton (1-0 at Goodison and 2-1 at Turf Moor), they also secured draws at Anfield and Old Trafford, whilst putting away the majority of teams in the bottom half of the table. Their style of play is improving year on year (this is perhaps the biggest hurdle Dyche must address if he wants to secure a top six job) and their defensive record rivaled the teams that finished above them in the league (39 conceded).
The 1-1 draw against City (H) particularly impressed me, and I have often gone on record stating that they were one of the few teams to really push Guardiola’s side this season. It took a Danilo screamer from outside the area to breach their armour, and Burnley stuck to their task, creating chances with good movement up front and whipped crosses from the flanks. Guðmundsson (more on him later) claimed the equaliser and City were made to look slightly more fallible than anyone previously thought.
How Did They Do It?
Burnley have a key advantage; there is no expectation for them to achieve what they have and, as a result, the pressure to load their squad with over-paid flair players is limited. As such they have added good Premier League players to the squad that allow for rotation without risking a fall in standards. They have added Aaron Lennon, Charlie Taylor, Phil Bardsley, Jack Cork and Chris Wood to the squad, allowing for the game time of the key players to be managed accordingly.
Cork and Wood in particular have been big successes, with Cork having made 37 appearances in the heart of the midfield, joining for £8 mill from strugglers Swansea. His presence has been integral to their midfield, providing steel and calmness to their play. Lennon’s arrival has given the side pace and flair since January, allowing for a fresh style of play against the weaker teams. Taylor will prove to be a great acquisition in the coming years, particularly considering he only cost £6 mill. Bardsley, on the other hand, is a scrapper and does a job when Matthew Lowton is unavailable.
As a result, Burnley are an upgrade on Brighton, with both teams being primarily defensive and looking to hit the opposition on the counter. The difference between the sides, however, is the overall squad depth and class that Burnley possess. Whilst their goal tallies are very similar, Burnley have a much better defensive record and they appear less reliant on one or two players to make the difference in tight games.
Let’s look at the Togga statistics (more on why I consider that important here). In the goals department, Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes lead the way with nine apiece, with Sam Vokes their nearest contender on four. Both Wood and Barnes are busy forwards, with each recording impressive aerial dual stats (81 and 76 won respectively). Both contribute to the defensive efforts, with Barnes winning 14 tackles this season.
They aren’t, however, the main creative forces in the team, something that gives them the edge over Brighton. Take Groß out of the equation, and the Seagulls’ main creator and second highest scorer is removed. Burnley’s creator-in-chief is Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson, who has weighed in with an impressive nine assists. He has made 63 key passes, 31 successful dribbles and 31 successful crosses, whilst winning 26 tackles and making 31 interceptions. For me, Guðmundsson is the main player in this Burnley outfit and is vital to their success.
Finally, we must look at the defence, as it’s been the main reason Burnley find themselves in 7th.
Nick Pope has been a revelation this year, and deserves his place in the England World Cup squad over Joe Hart. Burnley haven’t missed Heaton at all, and I think the 32-year-old will have a job to get past his compatriot next year. With 110 saves, 11 clean sheets and only 33 goals conceded, Pope is the second highest points-scoring keeper on Togga (obviously behind De Gea – who else would it be?) and he was recently named both Fans’ & Players’ Player of the Year.
James Tarkowski and Ben Mee have both been colossal at the back, meaning the Burnley faithful haven’t missed Michael Keane in the slightest. Tarkowski is rated as the 7th best defender on Togga this year, and has been a staple in my own team since the early days of the season. 141 aerials won, 222 clearances, 53 interceptions and 25 tackles are great stats, with Ben Mee having a similarly impressive season. True, they conceded five at the Emirates late in the season, but what the heck, we all have bad days!
2017-18 Season Rating: 9.5/10
My only criticism of Burnley is that they haven’t quite managed to overhaul Arsenal and make the top six, depriving me of an excuse to lay into my editor and his team of bottlers. This is probably a good thing – I’ve only just started writing for Full 90 Football, and annoying the guy in charge might not be the best idea for a newbie (Editor’s Note: A wise move)!
Burnley have a few areas to work on.
Firstly, there is an obvious lack of goals. Burnley scored the fewest goals in the top ten (36) and worryingly no-one in their midfield has more than two goals this season. This needs to be addressed, and I think a player like Ruben Loftus-Cheek would be a fantastic addition to the team, if Dyche can persuade Abramovich to sell yet another young English prospect.
Their defence needs little altering, but Burnley need to be wary of the vultures in the summer – Tarkowski to either Arsenal or Liverpool would be a great signing for either club.
Overall, however, what more can Burnley do? I hope they do not get carried away with their participation in Europe and splurge on players that do not fit the bill at Turf Moor. Will they achieve what Leicester did in their Champions League appearance? I’m not so sure. Will they achieve 7th again next year? Cash-rich clubs like Everton and Leicester may have other ideas.
My gut feeling is that this is the highest Burnley can go. There is much to be proud of and Dyche will rightly feel his performance has only been bested by one man in the league (Pep, who deservedly won Manager of the Year). But will Burnley become the next major threat to the top 4? No. Therefore, -0.5 points in the season rating for not overhauling Arsenal, but Sean – it has been a pleasure to watch your team at work!
Join me next time when I run the rule over one of the league’s most exciting (and frustrating) teams – Crystal Palace.