Following a gruelling start to the season with six Europa League fixtures and just one point from four Premier League games, many will point to fatigue or over-rotation as the cause of Burnley’s false start to the campaign. The real answer might actually be even simpler – Sean Dyche has had a lack of time on the training pitch.
Training Ground Time is Invaluable to Sean Dyche
In the modern-day game of extreme analysis, desperation for a scapegoat and a tendency to jump to conclusions, it appears to have been forgotten that a team can simply be in poor form – no excuses needed.
The difference with Burnley this year has been the addition of the Europa League, which has meant Sean Dyche has had no time to work on eradicating the mistakes made in the opening fixtures.
The Clarets’ fixture at Wolves on Sunday afternoon will be Dyche’s side’s first game of the season without having had a Europa League game in midweek. There was also the added intensity of three European matches before the Premier League had begun.
Usually, teams can use these qualifiers as routine pre-season warm-ups, but Burnley arguably drew the toughest two opponents possible, Aberdeen and Istanbul Basaksehir, before their domestic campaign had even started. Getting through these rounds appeared to come at a cost, with a more than shaky start to their league campaign striking fear into the hearts of some Clarets fans, but what’s gone wrong?
Burnley, Not Barcelona
So far this season, Burnley have drifted away from what they do best – being tight at the back. They have conceded nine goals in four games, a tally that took them nine games to reach last season. In fact, the Clarets averaged almost exactly one goal conceded per game last term (39 in 38), however, that ratio is hitting 2.25 so far.
It is too early to judge Burnley on this, sure, but in the last three games, they simply haven’t been showing any signs of fixing the problem.
Ben Mee has not looked himself, and if it wasn’t for Ben Gibson needing to see a specialist about his groin, he may have been a little nervous about losing his place. It would have been a brave decision to drop one of the club’s most consistent performers over the last few years, but by playing Phil Bardsley over Matty Lowton against Manchester United, Dyche has shown he’s taking no prisoners.
In an interview following Burnley’s exit from the Europa League to Olympiacos, Sean Dyche admitted that they had been lacking in typical Burnley identity in the last few games, saying he was happy that “we got back to that tonight and it was a very Burnley performance, full of quality, energy and the inner belief to keep going”. He will be hoping they can continue that at the weekend, following yet another blip against United.
Dyche will also be hoping that the Irish WhatsApp scandal does not effect Stephen Ward too much.
What’s the Solution?
Whatever the myths surrounding the Europa League are, fatigue is not the issue. Dyche has rotated as much as possible, and some of the poorer performances in the league this season have come from fully rested players. Furthermore, almost every single member of the Clarets’ squad, including Joe Hart, have Football League experience of heavy schedules.
What is most important is the lack of time away from the field. This training ground time is invaluable to Dyche, who will have been itching to have a full week at Gawthorpe since their home defeat to Watford.
Unfortunately for the boss, the international break has robbed him of key training time with James Tarkowski, Sam Vokes, Stephen Ward, Jeff Hendrick and Kevin Long. That said, he has had the core of the first team available for knocking into shape, and Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Robbie Brady continued their road to fitness away from their respective international squads.
International experience is always valuable, especially for Tarkowski, who is just breaking into the England camp. Dyche will be glad to have the whole contingent back fit and firing, especially with the announcement that Gudmundsson is available for selection ahead of the clash at Molineux.
Without important time on the training pitch, running defensive drills and helping a once resolute defensive unit back to its best, Dyche has seen his team hit a rut. No amount of rotation or rest can cure that – just more work.
On the Up
Dwight McNeil is a shining light who will be hoping to get a second Premier League start in a row, though the aforementioned Icelandic winger’s return to fitness may stand in the way of that. Steven Defour’s new contract extension to 2020 should also be cause for optimism amongst Burnley ranks.
Staying in the Europa League would not have effected Burnley as negatively as people like to suggest. Whether they had progressed or not, the players would still have had this vital training ground time to get back to basics and hopefully restart their season.
Either way, after four games Sean Dyche finally has had time to work his magic. It’s time to see what a difference he has made.