The last time Spurs played Burnley, the Clarets were in a bit of a free-fall. They were just above the relegation zone, were shipping goals left and right with Joe Hart in goal, and were looking very much like a team that would finally succumb to destiny and relegate to the English Championship.
Since 2019, the script has flipped, at least somewhat. Sean Dyche’s men haven’t lost at all in the Premier League since the new year, taking 15 points out of 21 possible. They have also conceded only six goals in those seven matches, a huge improvement. In fact, they’re starting to look more like the Dyche defense from last season. What’s the difference? Burnley dumped Joe Hart for Tom Heaton, and that sparked an almost immediate turnaround in their fortunes.
Kinda makes you think, doesn’t it?
They are also getting scoring production out of the strike partnership of Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes, who have combined to score 8 out of 12 goals during that stretch (with two of the remaining being own goals). There’s a not-crazy line of thinking that suggests that Burnley are much better now than they were three months ago, and that this may be a much more difficult match than Spurs fans might otherwise think.
That said, things are not exactly rosy — the Clarets are still barely hovering outside of the relegation zone and while they sit at 15th they are only three points ahead of Southampton in 18th. Relegation is still an open issue, which makes this match especially important to them. Three points against Spurs would go a long way.
But Spurs have some motivation of their own. They are now rightfully considered title contenders, and with a win can cut the lead on both Liverpool and Manchester City to two, with both playing on Sunday. This is still a match that Spurs can and probably should expect to win if they want to keep the pressure on the leaders. And if they can get Harry Kane back in the process? Bonus.
How will Tottenham line up against Burnley?
There are two schools of thought when it comes to predicting Spurs’ starting lineup on Saturday. The first involves looking ahead to Tottenham’s upcoming schedule — at Chelsea, a North London Derby at Wembley, and at Dortmund in the Champions League, all within ten days — and think it might be wise to rotate a few players to keep them fresh for the next run. There’s something to that idea, especially since despite being pretty healthy there are a few players that are either untested since their injury return (Harry Kane, Ben Davies, Eric Dier) or who could benefit from being worked in more gradually.
The other is to look at Burnley at Turf Moor as an under-appreciated tough match and go hell-for-leather for three points. I lean towards the second camp, but I am allowing myself to be convinced otherwise. With Danny Rose still injured, the options are either to bring Davies back into the fold, or push Vertonghen out wide for the third straight match. As good as he was against Dortmund, I would rather “save” him for the center of defense. Dier, too is a player we haven’t seen in a while, and he could use some minutes, especially if Pochettino is keen to use him against a better team, say in the NLD. I suspect Kieran Trippier will want to play against his old team.
The wild card is, of course, Harry Kane. Pochettino suggested that he will make his return to the pitch for the first time since December in some capacity, though it might not be as a starter. I think we’ll see Kane get a solid half hour against the Clarets, possibly more if Spurs need a late goal, but there’s no need to test that ankle too severely when there are plenty of critical matches upcoming. On the other hand, Son Heung-Min is in the midst of a purple (“Spurple?”) patch and it’s hard to imagine him getting rotated, especially after ten days rest.
Despite their newly discovered offense, this is still a Sean Dyche team, and Burnley will play organized defense. You can make an argument that Fernando Llorente’s hold-up play would be well-suited to a bunkered team, but I think instead we’ll see Spurs in the midfield diamond, with Lucas and Son trying to find gaps in between the lines.
That’s my prediction for Tottenham’s starting lineup against Burnley. What’s yours?