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First Team

Hot Off The Press: Burnley

Andy Jones of The Athletic on The Clarets

11 March 2022

Burnley sit 18th in the Premier League table, one point from safety with up to two games in hand on teams around them. What have you made of what you have seen over the past few months?

It has been better, certainly. After the Leeds game at the start of the year, which was a real disappointment, some started to really question whether Burnley were going to be able to survive. They had Covid problems to contend with, but then they hit the reset button and, going into the Arsenal game at the end of January, they went back to basics and stripped everything back. They had a team meeting and just went through everything; it was open and honest and all of the players and staff had the chance to say their piece – and they have now built from that. Against Arsenal they were good defensively and then they signed Wout Weghorst (above), who has come in and made a real difference. There has been an uplift in performances, seen by the results; the wins against Brighton and Tottenham provided a huge boost and, before that, the performances against Manchester United and Liverpool were encouraging, even though they didn’t win either of those games. Against Leicester, it was a disappointing performance, but it was their fourth game in 10 days, so I think there was an element of fatigue, but they just didn’t really play as well as they have been and could not really quite get going. They have used that foundation of getting back to basics and keeping clean sheets and then been able to add goals in a few games, too.

As you say, they have only lost three of their 10 league games in 2022 so far. Would you say there is an air of optimism behind the scenes, with regards to their survival chances, at the moment?

It is an interesting one because the mood is a lot more optimistic than it was. They went into the Brighton game off the back of improved performances, but they only had 14 points at that stage and were in danger of being cut adrift if they didn’t start winning games. The back-to-back wins completely changed the complexion of it. At the turn of the year, it looked as though it was going to be three of four teams in terms of relegation – Burnley, Newcastle, Watford and Norwich – and everyone else was going to be alright, but by using their games in hand and going on a little bit of a run and picking up more points, they have been able to draw more teams back into the battle. The optimism has definitely improved. While there was not an expectancy for them to beat Leicester earlier this month, I think it was seen as another good opportunity to win and move out of the relegation zone for the first time since October, but they lost 2-0 and missed that chance, which was deflating given the run they have been on. There is still a long way to go in the season and they are not going to be able to win or pick up points in every game. Burnley don’t panic - they keep calm and level-headed – and you can sense the optimism that they have got themselves back into it and given themselves as good a chance as any to be able to stay up.

A quick glance at the table shows that, despite their league position, they have lost the fewest games of the current bottom six. However, alongside Brighton and Crystal Palace, they have drawn the most games in the division. How costly is that inability to kill off games proving to be?

It has been somewhat disappointing, but there are two ways to look at it; they are not losing those games and, by accumulating those draws, they have still been able to pick points and the back-to-back wins have meant they are not still playing catch-up. During the first half of the season, Burnley were not as watertight defensively as you would expect and they were losing a bit of concentration, with one of the Leicester goals recently a reminder of those times. They have had some really good draws, too. What Burnley have done really well this season is to stay in games, with the 4-0 defeat to Chelsea last week the first time they have been beaten by a deficit of more than two goals. In the reverse fixture against the Blues, they – quite frankly – got battered for 70 minutes, stayed in the game, kept it at 1-0 and then got the chance and took it to earn a point.

Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on this Saturday?

There are a few, to be honest, but Weghorst is the main one, just because of the fact he has become a focal point so quickly and, when teams have been able to keep him quiet, Burnley have not really functioned as well. He is someone who provides them with that thought they can create opportunities, though not necessarily with just him scoring the goals. His all-round game is really good; he brings players into play, he links up and you can also see the impact he has had on the midfield and how much they have been able to get up the pitch and play.

How is Sean Dyche likely to set up his side at the Brentford Community Stadium?

It will be 4-4-2. Ben Mee didn’t play against Chelsea, but I would imagine he will be in contention for the Brentford game and, if he starts, he will start alongside James Tarkowski in defence. Nick Pope will be in goal, Charlie Taylor has come back in after Erik Pieters’ injury and one selection issue will be who they put up front with Weghorst, though Maxwel Cornet and Jay Rodriguez have rotated over the last two weeks. The difference for Burnley this time to the last time they played Brentford is that whipped ball round the corner to get in behind, which Burnley used really effectively at Turf Moor; there will still be an element of that, especially if Cornet plays up top or at wide on the left, but they want to play mixed football, so they will also look to play into and off Weghorst. They are going to be compact, defend the box well and force Brentford out wide because that is how Tarkowski and Mee love defending. You know what you are going to get with Burnley, it is just whether you can stop it and impose your own game on them.

The last meeting saw Burnley collect their first win of the season back in October, with Chris Wood, Maxwel Cornet and Matt Lowton scoring in a 3-1 victory. What’s your score prediction this time around?

I think it is going to be tight as there is going to be so much riding on that game. I’ll be surprised if it is an open, free-flowing game, so I’m going to go for a 1-0 Burnley win.


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