How Sean Dyche has reinvigorated Burnley
The upcoming weekend clash between Burnley FC and Tottenham is a home match for a current Top 6 side. No, the match is not at White Hart Lane, and no Burnley fans, you are not dreaming – Burnley head into the match 2 points off a top-four place breathing down the necks of Liverpool and Arsenal.
Burnley are reaping the rewards for keeping faith in manager Sean Dyche. It is not usual practice for premier league clubs to stick with their managers post-relegation; in fact, even the whiff of relegation usually leads to the whip. But the management team at Burnley kept calm when the team got relegated in 2014-15. Subsequently, an immediate promotion has been followed up by premier league consolidation.
So how has Sean Dyche pulled off the reinvigoration of Burnley?
Coping with departures of key players
On 10 August 2017, Watford announced the capture of Andre Gray from Burnley for a club record fee. Sean Dyche admitted the Clarets could not match the striker’s wage demands, “We couldn’t get to a level which was enough.”
One month earlier, Michael Keane had departed for Everton. Burnley was prepared to head into the new season having sold their best defender and striker from the previous season. Doomsday predictions began flying about – alongside newly promoted Brighton and Huddersfield, Burnley were firmly installed as preseason relegation favourites.
Well, it turns out Dyche knew what he was doing. The transition has been seamless – with striker Christopher Wood coming in from Leeds to replace Gray’s goals; while Keane’s replacement Tarkowski has had a much better season than the man he replaced. Tarkowski, in particular, shows the benefits of Dyche’s long-term planning. He was signed from Brentford in February 2016 and spent most of his first and second seasons on the bench before seizing his opportunity.
Long-term vision and planning
One of Dyche’s first questions to Burnley owners, when he took charge in 2012, was about the Premier League money from their previous spell in the top flight. He had played at Turf Moor loads of times, explained Dyche, and the changing rooms were still the same. The owners shrugged their shoulders; the money had naturally been spent on players, wages and the like. “We can’t afford to do that again,” for Dyche, there had to be a bigger picture than that.
When the owners approved a £10.5 million project for a new training ground back in 2015, the sum was more than they had ever spent on a player. Back in March 2017, Burnley completed the move to their new training centre in Barnfield. They were back in the Premier League in time to see the fruits of their patience and meticulous planning - it felt a refreshing moment amidst the frenzy of modern football.
Burnley have the joint best defence in the Premier League this season alongside both Manchester clubs, having conceded only 12 goals in 18 games. 7 of their 9 league wins this season have been 1-0 scorelines, with a total of 9 clean sheets. Only Chelsea and Manchester City have managed to put more than one goal past Burnley in the league this season.
The foundation for a rock-solid defence has been an effective centre-back partnership, with Tarkowski (28) and Ben Mee (25) having blocked more shots than any player bar Brighton’s Lewis Dunk (29). Steven Defour has patrolled the midfield intelligently, with 34 interceptions (8th highest in the league) to show for it.
It is astonishing to recollect now that Burnley won their first and only away game of 2016-17 in April, racking up 14 losses in 19 matches. With 15 points, they have already doubled their away points tally by December this season. A memorable opening day win at Chelsea and draws at Liverpool and Tottenham have been the highlights of their campaign, while hard-fought wins at Everton and Southampton add gloss to their tale.
Under Sean Dyche, Burnley have always been good at Turf Moor. Last season, they managed 33 points from 19 home games. This season, their newfound potency away from home has been key to their success, propelling them from midtable security to European contention.
The way forward
Not unlike Ranieri in 2015-16, Dyche has been quick to downplay expectations. “The first target is to try and achieve something better than we did last season,” said Dyche a week ago. Indeed, 40 points remains the ground target upon which to build. At their current rate, Burnley could easily surpass the total by January.
A crack at the top four remains elusively difficult for a side with issues in front of goal – outside relegation places, only Bournemouth, Crystal Palace and Brighton have scored less – yet even a position north of 8th would represent a substantial achievement for a club with Burnley’s resources.
Dyche has forged a formidable resume for himself - it only remains to be seen how much further he can take Burnley before bigger clubs inevitably come calling.