As this Premier League campaign approaches its home stretch, the side from Turf Moor are one of the teams exceeding expectations this season. Although Burnley is, at times, viewed as an unfashionable club and often left unappreciated, they deserve more credit as their work ethic is just one facet contributing towards their success.
In their opening 25 Premier League games, Burnley have delivered up to now. The club’s pre-season objective to avoid relegation remains firmly intact, they currently sit 12th in the table and 10 points clear of the relegation places. So, despite being installed as relegation favourites before a ball was kicked, Sean Dyche’s side are surpassing those predictions; a home record of 9 wins in 14 games – the fourth best in the Premier League, including a victory over Liverpool and the recent draw to Chelsea, provides clear evidence of that being the case.
While Burnley is a relatively small club compared to many of their Premier League rivals, possessing a stadium with the fourth lowest capacity in the division and spending the third least on transfer fees in the summer, the team relies on more than the dogged determination instilled by Dyche. In their last encounter with the English top flight, the Clarets finished 19th but lacked the quality required to compete at the highest level. However, after an extended break, in which time they finished top of the pile in the Championship, Burnley are now better equipped to deal with the demands of the Premier League.
A key factor in Burnley’s success this season is, undoubtedly, manager Sean Dyche. The 45-year old has moulded a side capable of competing in England’s top division; along with the club’s players and supporters, he’s now reaping the rewards. However, despite his success, the former Watford manager remains underrated in comparison to his counterparts. Although his flamboyance doesn’t reach the same extent as some of the overseas managers, Dyche’s name, particularly this campaign, belongs in the upper echelons of the domestic managerial realm.
Former Arsenal centre-back, Martin Keown recently echoed this sentiment. Speaking as a pundit on Match of the day 2 after Burnley’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea, he said:
You look at the resources he (Dyche) has there and what he is achieving, four or five of those players went down before, he has come back this time and he is using that extra knowledge. The whole game was compelling stuff, very much so. They are the best two managers, I think, in the Premier League at the moment, Sean Dyche and Antonio Conte.
While Dyche’s presence and tactical knowledge is indispensable, obviously, certain players have also played crucial roles. Burnley have made some astute signings, beginning in the summer when they parted with £10 million to acquire Jeff Hendrick, and this added quality has seen the club improve immensely since their last outing in the Premier League. Another summer recruit, Steven Defour, has also proved a real coup; the Belgian midfielder’s ability on the ball and accomplished passing has provided his side with three assists in the league since he arrived.
Burnley produced one of their best performances of the season in their last game to claim a share of the spoils against league leaders Chelsea, with recent signing Robbie Brady playing an instrumental role. The Republic of Ireland international cost the Clarets a club record £13 million in the January transfer window, and in his first start, he scored a spectacular free-kick to earn his new side a deserved point.
Brady’s arrival is further evidence of the increase in quality at Turf Moor. The left-sided midfielder, who has 79 Premier League appearances while playing for both Norwich City and Hull City, adds great crossing ability to his team, along with being a good passer of the ball and formidable at set pieces. He also scored twice at Euro 2016, against Italy and France, so he knows how to perform on the big occasions. Burnley’s signings over the last two transfer windows have helped raise the standards on the pitch, but longer serving players also continue to improve.
Tom Heaton, the club captain with two England caps, is in his fourth season at Turf Moor. The goalkeeper has six clean sheets to his name this season – the joint-seventh best record in the English top flight, which includes his man of the match performance at Old Trafford that earned his side an unlikely point against Manchester United. Playing just in front of Heaton, and providing strength and aerial ability, is the talented centre-back, Michael Keane.
Keane has appeared in all of Burnley’s league games this season, and the 24-year-old has established himself as one of England’s most promising young defenders. Lastly, the focal point of the team – Andre Gray. The striker, who played a crucial role in his side’s most recent promotion from the Championship by hitting 23 goals, combines his pace with good composure in front of goal. Gray’s scored six times in the league this campaign, including one of only seven hat tricks.
Burnley’s short journey from relegation favourites to possible mid-table safety is in part due to the club’s workmanlike ethos, but the significant improvement in results couldn’t have been achieved without enhancing their footballing ability. Dyche has added a sprinkling of stardust to his resolute side and it’s taking full effect on the pitch. Burnley are among the surprise packages this season; although their away record needs to improve having failed to pick up a victory in 11 attempts, the Clarets are capable of maintaining their position and proving that the ‘smaller clubs’ can compete among the riches of the Premier League.