Burnley FC: Analysing the key to The Clarets' success this season
Before the start of the 17/18 season of the Premier League, most people tipped Burnley for relegation. Some even went as far as to say that they would finish bottom of the league.
And when their star man and captain Tom Heaton picked up a shoulder injury that would rule him out for over 200 days, things started to seem much bleaker for The Clarets.
However, Burnley now sit seventh in the Premier League table, just one place off a European spot.
Although they don't seem likely to clinch a spot amongst Europe's elite, their achievements have been remarkable this season to say the least and due credit has to be given to their manager, Sean Dyche.
The Master Plan
Burnley's success is a result of an extremely organised defense, which in turn is able to restrict most oppositions from scoring because of the hours of training put in, and a genuinely remarkable tactic used by the manager.
The tactic in question here is what is known as the low block. Essentially, Burnley encourage their opposition to shoot from areas that are so far out, or at such an angle, that either the defenders manage to block the shot, or the goalkeeper can save it easily.
Burnley concede 15.3 shots every game which is the most in the league. However, they have only conceded 28 goals in 32 matches. Only City, United, and Spurs have conceded less.
Their team organises itself in a way that allows them to block most of the shots they concede. In fact, they also block a league-best 5.2 shots and 3.5 crosses in every game.
The key to using this tactic is to not give away too many set pieces, and sure enough, Burnley commit only 9.4 fouls a game on average. That's the third best in the league.
They are also one of just two teams to not see a red card for any player so far this season, the other being Crystal Palace.
Apart from this, they have kept 11 clean sheets this season and have conceded three or more goals on only two occasions in the league.
On the other end of the pitch, Burnley are far from special. They have scored just 31 goals in the league in 32 games.
They have won only two games by a margin of two or more goals. Once early in the season against Swansea, and once more recently against West Ham.
They take 10.1 shots on average per game and 3.3 of those were on target. Another notable statistic is that they have a league-lowest 5.7 dribbles on average per game, 1.1 dribbles lower than the second lowest team, Everton.
The Bigger Picture
The figures make it quite clear. Burnley have been pretty average going forward this season.
But their extraordinary defensive statistics have seen them reach within touching distance of a place in Europe, and it would be quite right to say that they have earned every bit of the appreciation that has been laid upon them.
We have seen teams like Liverpool and Manchester City press and counter-attack with extreme intensity.
We have also seen teams like Manchester United park the bus when needed. But the low block is a thing of beauty when closely observed, and Dyche's men have executed it brilliantly.