Four days after a dramatic Champions League draw against Barcelona at the Nou Camp that saw them squeak into the Round of 16 by the skin of their teeth, Tottenham Hotspur return to the friendly confines of Wembley Stadium, hosting Burnley in the Premier League Saturday tea time. Under normal circumstances, we’d look at this match nervously as one where we might expect Spurs to slip up as they come down from the highs of European greatness.
But this is Burnley. Just how good are they, really? The answer: extremely not very!
Under noted worm-muncher Sean Dyche, a man who looks less like he was born and more chiseled out of a block of granite, Burnley had established a reputation as an extremely solid defensive club. Burnley weren’t exactly a team that you’d expect to score a lot of goals, but with Dyche’s low defensive block they were incredibly difficult to break down. That defensive solidity combined with juuuuuust enough attacking oomph is what helped not only keep them up every year, but finish a more than respectable 7th place last season, conceding only 39 goals, similar to Spurs, Liverpool, and Chelsea.
So all that makes you wonder: what the heck has happened this season? Burnley’s reputation as a defensive powerhouse is in tatters. Playing with the same defensive partnership of Ben Mee and James Tarkowski as last season, they’ve already let in 32 goals, second worst in the league behind Fulham, and they’re actually slightly outperforming their xGA. They’re just above the relegation zone and look like they’re going to be fighting to stay up all season. That’s real bad.
And it’s that GA=xGA that’s the real issue here. Dyche’s teams are tactically sound and have a high work rate, and his teams have tended to outperform their xGA. Last season, it was remarkable — their GA-xGA was an astounding -13. This season Burnley haven’t come close to duplicating those kinds of numbers.
The difference might be as simple as who is standing in goal. Last season, Burnley had Nick Pope, a fantastic young goalkeeper who made England’s World Cup squad as a reserve. But Pope injured his shoulder in a Europa League match against Aberdeen in late July, one that eventually required surgery, and hasn’t been seen since. Pope’s replacement? Joe Hart, who statistically was one of the worst shot-stopping keepers in the league last season, according to Statsbomb, who calls him “in fact and talent a third-string keeper at this point in his career.” It’s hard to disagree.
But if we’re feeling generous, let’s put it down to all of the above: Burnley are regressing to the mean, they’re an aging squad with lots of miles on the tires, Dyche isn’t quite the defensive sorcerer everyone thought he was, and Joe Hart is terrible.
Offensively, it’s also pretty grim for the Clarets. They have only scored 15 goals. Tarkowski, a central defender, is their co-leading scorer with three goals. Chris Wood, Burnley’s leading scorer last season with 10 strikes, has only found the back of the net once. No club is averaging fewer shots per game (8.7), or shots on target per game (2.8). Burnley’s game plan is almost certainly going to be to sit back in that Dyche-ian low block, defend, and pray. And they’re not even very good at that right now.
All of these things bode quite well for Tottenham Hotspur, even after a huge, emotionally fraught result at the Camp Nou. Basically, what I’m saying is that Spurs SHOULD win this, and if they don’t it’s very bad and they should feel bad.
How will Spurs line up against Burnley?
Spurs have this thing where they play a match pretty much every 3 or 4 days. When you have a deep bench, that’s less of an issue. But Spurs don’t, thanks to a spate of injuries at key positions.
That said, after running out the best XI against Barcelona, I think we can expect SOME rotation, if only to give a few key players a breather against what sure seems like terrible opposition at home. I never predict that Kane will sit — why would I? — but it seems likely that both Lucas and Lamela will start, with Eric Dier returning to the midfield. Juan Foyth will almost certainly come in for one of Jan Vertonghen or Toby Alderweireld. I’m not sure which one, but I’ll guess it’s Jan.
Kyle Walker-Peters had a bit of a horror-show at the Nou Camp, but like Foyth before him, I predict Pochettino will reward him for chucking him into the fire vs. Barcelona with an arm around the shoulder and a Premier League start at right back. Ben Davies will come back at left back.
That’s my prediction for Tottenham’s lineup against Burnley. What’s yours?