Joe Hart's troubles, defensive errors and confused transfer-market policy: five things gone wrong at Burnley
Richard Jolly takes a look at the remarkable decline in Premier League side Burnley's fortunes
Go back to December last year and, if only for 24 hours, Burnley were in the top four. Now they are in the bottom three.
It has been a dramatic decline. The side who finished seventh are starting to bear similarities with the West Bromwich Albion side who ended 2016/17 in 10th and then suffered an ignominious relegation the following year.
So what has gone wrong at Turf Moor?
Burnley have averaged under a goal a game since returning to the Premier League in 2016, so it is imperative they do not let in many. But when Everton won 5-1 at Turf Moor on Boxing Day, it meant the Clarets had conceded 41 goals in half a season, two more than in the whole of the last campaign.
Burnley are conceding most shots per game (19.5), and while they continue to block more than anyone else, opponents are carving out clearer chances. A normally well-organised team have let in eight goals at set-pieces; the manner of them has often been damning.
“Too many loose, soft goals,” manager Sean Dyche said.
A rigid adherent of a back four, he has experimented with a back five. “We’re shuffling,” Dyche added.
It almost worked against Spurs. It did not against Everton.
The Hart stopper
Joe Hart’s signing felt odd, as Burnley already had two England international goalkeepers. But he has made the most saves in the Premier League, plenty of them excellent.
Yet if it feels harsh to blame him, Hart has conceded 90 goals in his last 41 league games, rather too many of them from long-range shots, and he is a common denominator in porous sides. Burnley’s defenders seemed more comfortable with Tom Heaton and Nick Pope.
The latter came off his line more and, after a serious shoulder injury, is fit again.
The only way is down
Burnley may identify unwanted similarities with the Ipswich team of 2000-02. Then virtually every player had the best season of his career together as they came fifth before they suffered a collective relapse and were relegated.
Last year was the finest James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, Matthew Lowton, Ashley Barnes, Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Pope and (arguably) Jack Cork have ever had. Logically, each would suffer some kind of drop-off but Burnley, with one of the lowest budgets and one of the least talented groups in the division, are suffering as a result.
"There’s very few players this season who have laid down such a strong marker were they’re almost written on the teamsheet every week,” Dyche said.
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Last season should have given Burnley a platform to strengthen. To Dyche’s considerable frustration, they did not make a signing until August.
He ended up with a goalkeeper, in Hart, and a left-footed centre-back, in Ben Gibson, positions where he arguably did not need to buy, and a striker, in Matej Vydra, who scarcely fits his style of football.
More suitable targets like Jay Rodriguez, Craig Dawson and Alfie Mawson eluded Burnley while, with Sam Clucas instead leaving Swansea for Stoke, Burnley did not get the extra midfielder they required.
The Europa League took a physical toll on a team who need to outwork opponents to get results and whose running statistics suffered. But it is thought Dyche did not impress some players by fielding weakened teams against Olympiakos.
Meanwhile the manager’s rhetoric – presenting himself as the only man who cares about diving and complaining about Burnley’s inability to win a penalty – may be a deflection tactic but, besides feeling tiresome, is failing to galvanise his players.
A manager who has done an exceptional job at Turf Moor may have underperformed on a personal level.
Updated: December 29, 2018 04:04 PM