The Season So Far
Burnley’s 2015-16 was a total triumph: Sean Dyche’s humble, hard-working Clarets won the Championship at a canter and at the first attempt, returning to the Premier League after the briefest of absences, losing just five league games along the way. The club’s long-term planning and sound footballing and financial decisions enabled them to prepare for the campaign long before they were relegated, and they showed the way forward when it comes to anticipating and dealing with relegation from the top flight. In that regard, they are an example to follow.
And if their 2015-16 was a triumph, their 2016-17 one-ups it easily. On paper, their squad looks painfully limited at this level, and no-one was expecting anything other than another bloody battle against relegation, and most probably a bloody battle lost. On the season’s eve, Dyche spoke of the difficulty of convincing players to sign for Burnley, and although the capture of Belgian midfielder Steven Defour represented a coup and a step forward, they still look well short in terms of individual quality and on a tactical level.
And yet, they’ve never once looked in danger of going down. Only four teams have taken more points at home and even after a recent collapse in form – they’ve won just one of their last eight league games – Burnley sit in 13th, eight points clear of the drop and looking forward to next season already. They have lacked quality and flair and advanced tactics all season but it hasn’t mattered: their fighting qualities, teamwork and humility have seen them stay way clear of trouble for the entire campaign. Even accounting for a horror-run of the type they’re enduring now, few fans are worried.
The Season Ahead
Dyche and company have all-but secured Premier League status for another year and they’ve have gladly accepted that at the start of the season. Their recent wobble has introduced an element of doubt and the objective in the remaining games of the season will be to finish the job and secure a more-than-respectable mid-table finish.
There is one other goal they will surely be looking at before the season’s end: getting an away win. They may have the fifth-best home record in the Premier League but they have the worst away record, with three draws and twelve defeats from fifteen played. With a visit to Everton highly unlikely to change that fact, the away games at notably awful Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace will be prioritised, with a possible smash-and-grab down at Bournemouth also possible given that the Cherries seem to have popped.
Sean Dyche is not a man who feels shame or embarrassment, and while other managers in his demographic would turn their noses up at the idea of playing a boxy, tight and defensive 4-4-2 with lots of long balls and no attempts at ball retention, Dyche has embraced The Tony Pulis Method with his entire heart and he’s reaping the results (for now).
Tottenham can expect to face a parked bus with very little intention of moving out of the way, and it’ll be up to Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Son Heung-Min to find a way around it. Thankfully, they’ve been pretty good at doing just that of late, and although Burnley’s home record is fearsome, there’s little to suggest the Clarets’ tactical plan is the best way to beat Spurs regardless of venue.
Burnley are very admirably organised and work like dogs, and this makes them more than capable of overcoming their obvious limitations, as victories against Liverpool, Everton and Southampton, as well as draws against Chelsea and Manchester United, have shown. Dyche’s ability to get more out of his lot than anyone has any right to expect remains Burnley’s biggest strength.
They know they’re worse than everyone else on paper and that their victories will come not from talent but from sacrifice, teamwork and defensive excellence: no Premier League team has blocked more shots than Burnley’s 5.8 per game or made more clearances than their 34.2 per game; only five have made more interceptions per game than Burnley’s 14.9; only Hugo Lloris has bettered Tom Heaton’s 74.1% save percentage this season.
Their attacking plan is so rudimentary as to be pitiful, but it’s worked for them. In confirmed bigot André Gray, the Clarets have a hotshot finisher with the potential to be a prolific Premier League striker, while George Boyd retains the capability to produce a moment of genius when it’s least expected, and Ashley Barnes never stops running.
On an individual level Burnley are a division below Tottenham and the gulf in quality will be obvious from the first whistle to the last.
More importantly, however, is the fact that Burnley’s entire game-plan relies on them being able to soak up pressure and not give away too many clear-cut chances while allowing their opponents to basically shoot at will. They may block and save more than anyone else, but the scale of the domination which Burnley subject themselves to is horrifying: no team has allowed more shots on their goal than Burnley this season, while only two have taken fewer shots themselves. This is a deeply defensive and flawed way to play football, and it’s only a matter of time before their luck runs out and they start getting thrashed every week.
Fingers crossed Spurs start the fun here.
Dyche favours playing a settled XI and there’s no reason to predict any changes here.
Burnley’s home form has been phenomenal but even at home they’ve lost to the good teams they’ve faced. Spurs should win here, and by at least a couple.