Off the back of a brilliant win against Everton in the Merseyside derby, courtesy of a late Divock Origi goal, the mood in the Anfield camp could not be better, as they prepare to embark on a packed Christmas schedule.
This week, I’ll be looking at Sean Dyche’s Burnley, who find themselves right in the middle of the relegation scrapheap at 19th.
Where are Burnley Now?
Given Burnley’s success last season in earning entry into the Europa League for the first time in 51 years, it may seem somewhat surprising that the Clarets now find themselves at the opposite end of the league table.
Some have speculated that club’s recent form has much to do with the club’s lack of ambition in the transfer market, with the signings of Joe Hart, Ben Gibson, and Matej Vydra.
Indeed, had Burnley only to compete in the Premier League and the domestic cups, then one might have grudgingly accepted the signings made.
Ultimately however, it did little to help their European campaign, as Dyche’s men were knocked out by Olympiakos in the second leg of their qualifying play-off at Turf Moor.
Beyond their brief stint in Europe, Burnley’s league form continues to suffer, with not a single victory earned since the 30th September.
Fourteen games into the 2018/19 season, Burnley find themselves at 19th on nine points, their worst start to a season since 2014/15 (12 points after the same number of fixtures), in which Burnley suffered relegation.
Sean Dyche – Outdated Tactics or European Hangover?
The season of 2017/18 was an impressive one for the Clarets, who showcased guts and hard-work to secure their best finish in the top flight since their 6th place finish back in 1974.
Since a poor run of form towards the tail end of that season however, Burnely have since struggled to bring home the points, with only two wins recorded in fourteen games.
To put things into perspective, Dyche had a 50% win rate at the same stage last season (26.5% win rate across 128 premier league with Burnley), compared to 14.28% this term.
It’s well known that Burnley did extremely well to climb so high in the league with the size of their squad, and that is certainly one theory for explaining their poor start this season.
One might also point out that the loss of Nick Pope to injury is keenly felt by Dyche’s Burnley, given the English International’s terrific debut season with the Lancashire club.
Yet, given Dyche’s historical success with limited funds at the two clubs he has managed – Watford and Burnley – it does beg the question: have Dyche’s tactics become outdated of late in an era of Premier League football where counter-attacking football has become more sophisticated than simply lumping the ball up to the big forwards? Or can this run of results be attributed to the high demands placed on Dyche’s squad so early into the season?
In the Championship, Dyche excelled despite Watford’s limited financial capabilities, beating the league’s top sides in Middlesborough, Brighton, and – now current side – Burnley, which helped the club on its way to finishing 11th, their best finish in the Championship for four years.
Despite Dyche’s efforts though, Watford’s change of ownership at the end of the season prompted his swift departure and his subsequent succession of Eddie Howe at Burnley.
In his first season in the Premier League, Dyche’s Clarets suffered relegation, but quickly gained promotion the season after, and secured a 16th place finish in the 2016/17 season before their highest finish of the Dyche era in 2017/18.
Had Dyche not blown apart expectations with this Burnley side last term, we have to wonder whether the Englishman would be under the same level of scrutiny for his side’s form this season.
At Burnley, Dyche has set up his side to play a narrow 4-4-1-1 with the team defending deep.
Whilst this means that Burnley often don’t score many goals, they tend to concede very few. Indeed, in the 2017/18 season, only the top 5 of Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Liverpool, and Chelsea managed to concede less than Burnley’s total of 38 goals against.
This was engineered largely through Burnley’s low block, which involved two banks of four (defenders and midfield) sitting narrowly inside and just outside the box.
This means that Burnley’s opposition rarely have opportunities for close range shots, forcing teams to make deep or wide crosses, or shots from outside the box, which the defence can easily block.
It explains why Burnely consistently hit high figures in blocks over the course of a season. Currently, Ben Mee and James Tarkowski are joint top with Shane Duff of Brighton on 22 blocks this season, and the season before they held 42 and 43 blocks respectively (5th and 4th in the number of blocks in 2017/18).
This season, Burnley have already shipped in 29 goals, a marked change from their defensive resilience of the previous term.
Going forward, Burnley’s game plan is simple: build from out wide and deliver crosses to their strong forwards in either Chris Wood or Sam Vokes.
The only issue with this game-plan is that Burnley completely lack an alternative method of achieving victory, with both centre-forwards being essentially perfect for Dyche’s long-ball tactics, but little else.
However, goal-wise, Burnley have scored 13 times this season, only one less than at the same stage in 2017/18, which would suggest that club’s form this season is largely due to a lack of defensive resilience.
Were Burnley to sack Dyche, I’m not so sure there is another manager out there (who would be willing to join) that could replicate Dyche’s coaching.
Thus, if Burnley do decide to opt for a managerial shake-up it must only be for the purposes of changing the club’s style of football.
Is it time for Sean Dyche to depart Burnley? Or should the club keep the faith? Have your say in the comments below.