Burnley Season Preview: signings needed

burnley 2Burnley won the Championship title last season, but optimism gained from that 23 game unbeaten run has not quite sustained itself throughout the summer. With Joey Barton departing for Rangers and no high-profile additions, Burnley’s current squad has arguably been weakened. Do they have enough to beat the drop? The Football Lab gets the views of Robbie Coppack, who you can follow on Twitter @robbiecoppack.

Congratulations on winning the Championship title last season. What do you think was key to your success?

It was a strange season really, on Boxing Day we were well beaten by promotion rivals, Hull City 3-0 at the KC Stadium. And many Burnley fans were beginning to question Sean Dyche, including myself. Since then, the players have talked about a team meeting after that game. Sean made a couple of changes and we haven’t looked back since. So that a huge turning point for us.

Your unbeaten run last season coincided with Ben Mee replacing Mike Duff at centre-back and Stephen Ward filling in at left-back. Were those changes important?

One of the changes Dyche made after the Hull defeat. We are unbeaten with the current back four, which is incredible when you consider that Ben Mee had played left back for the majority of his Burnley career, to move him into his more natural positon you could say was a big risk. But Michael Keane and Ben Mee developed a partnership which was largely similar to the Shackell and Duff partnership from the last promotion campaign. Both current CB’s look like they could become influential leaders.

When Burnley were last in the Premier League, they were arguably the hardest working side but suffered from a lack of match-winning quality. Why will it be different this time around?

I think Andre Gray will be a huge difference for us. I think he will be better suited for us for us in a relegation battle. No disrespect to Danny Ings, but I think with his game being well suited to dropping deeper and collecting the ball, it did prevent us causing problems offensively. With Gray preferring to play on the shoulder of the defender, it’ll help us push up the field faster with balls in the channels etc.

Your transfer business this summer has been worryingly slow. Given that Burnley will have more money than last time they were in the Premier League, should they have paid that bit extra for the players needed?

Burnley and transfer windows just don’t seem to get along. Whatever the window, we always have problems recruiting. The club will always come out and suggest that we won’t overspend, which is always great to hear. However I have always believed that if you take a risk, you do get rewards. Despite it being slow so far, I do believe that we will be getting busier with the campaign only weeks away. Not quite to the same extent to Middlesbrough though.

Midfielder Joey Barton has left for Rangers. Given the transformative effect he had on the team when he joined in September, this must be a blow?

Massive blow, I find it baffling that the club weren’t prepared to give him the two year contract he wanted. He’s arguably the best midfielder I’ve seen in a Burnley shirt and it’s a huge shame that club didn’t give him what he wanted. I always said we needed a CM partner for Barton if we get promoted. With Barton also gone, we need at least two new central midfielders to start against the Swansea.

You’ve got players in midfield, namely Dean Marney and David Jones, who can be injury prone. Are you surprised the club have not made more of an effort to sign a ball-winner with a better fitness record?

Marney, Jones and Frederik Ulvestad aren’t cut out to play 30+ games at this level. Jones has always been fit, Marney until last season was always fit. But the last premier league campaign suffered after Dean Marney suffered an ACL injury against West Brom. We had Nathaniel Chalobah on loan and the deal expired in January window where we never replaced him. We assed around with Graham Dorrans and Henri Lansbury and we focused too much on getting a bargain. We brought Ulvestad in on a free in March who never his boots dirty until our relegation was confirmed. It was embarrassing if I’m being honest.

Sean Dyche has always stuck to a 4-4-2 formation. Can you make this work in the Premier League?

We saw Leicester and Watford at times last season play 4-4-2 last season and both had very successful campaigns. I don’t see why we can’t. Not saying we’ll win the Premier League, but with the right recruitment, we can definitely survive. We just have to add some attacking quality to turn losses into draws and draws into wins. We won’t get turned over under Dyche and this system, but I don’t see us scoring many goals until we add to the squad.

Goalkeeper Tom Heaton was called up to the England squad last season. If he has a stormer this year, is there potential for him to replace Joe Hart?

I don’t think so. Let’s be honest, he was only in the squad due to Jack Butland and Frasier Forster getting injured during the season. When both are fully fit, I don’t expect to see Heaton to get called up anytime soon. Despite having a poor Euro’s I don’t see Joe Hart losing his spot in the England goalkeeping department.

Right-back Matthew Lowton impressed last season. Could it be difficult for Tendayi Darikwa to win his place back?

We have two very good right backs. Darikwa will have to be patient after Lowton impressive campaign last season. I imagine Matt Lowton to be a key performer for us next season. Can’t see Darikwa gaining his place back unless an injury occurs.

Centre-back Michael Keane has attracted the interest of Premier League champions Leicester this summer. Do you expect him to leave?

I really can’t see him staying to be honest. Even as a Burnley fan, the reported money we are demanding for him is ludicrous. A great defender and will definitely go on and represent England, but I’m really surprised we turned down £15m. Especially when you consider we have a replacement in James Tarkowski sat on the bench. I really do believe that we could spend the money strengthening in other areas.

Andre Gray seems to have that raw pace, aggression and desire you often see from strikers who have risen from non-league. Would you agree he has the credentials to be a success in the top flight?

Definitely, I touched on it before that I think his game is better suited for us right now. Could he go on and play at a higher level? I’m not sure, there’s no doubt that he can play at this level, but can’t imagine us letting him go to a top Premier League club like we did Danny Ings.

Sam Vokes has a decent record in the Championship. However, is he a Premier League level striker?

This is an intriguing one, it’s a really difficult question to answer right now, and obviously we can’t judge him from two years ago after coming back from a long term injury. I do believe that a fully fit Sam Vokes would will cause problems for any centre back. If we can get the Gray and Vokes partnership firing on a cylinders, then I think he will definitely be valuable to us for the upcoming season. Not having Vokes fit the last PL season was a blow, we never found a partner for Ings, which I think contributed to our downfall in attacking areas. If we can keep Vokes fit, I think it’ll hugely beneficial for us battling against the drop.

What are your thoughts ahead of the Premier League season as a whole? Which teams do you feel could be battling the drop?

We seem to say this every year, but I do believe this is the most exciting Premier League season. With Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho coming into the Premier League, it could be the two Manchester clubs battling for top spot. But then you think about Chelsea, they won’t have another poor season, Liverpool under Klopp now he’s had a proper transfer window and pre-season to work with, you’d imagine they’ll be in for the top four. Tottenham again, will be in and around it. You look deeper than that, you have Arsenal, which could be Wenger’s last season in charge, so he’ll want to end on a bang. Everton, with the finances pumped into the club now. And we haven’t mentioned the Champions Leicester yet. So when you evaluate the league as a whole, it going to be extremely fascinating.

In terms of a relegation battle, that is really tough. You imagine the likes of West Brom, Crystal Palace, Swansea, Hull will be in and around it. But you think about Palace bidding £30m for strikers across Europe. It’s mental that most Premier League clubs have money like that to throw around, so you automatically assume most clubs are aiming for the top 10 if not top 6 finish. You don’t try and spend money like to just avoid the drop. We think that the three promoted clubs will find it difficult, but you look at the types of players Middlesbrough have brought in and you can’t imagine them being anywhere near the bottom three. You imagine ourselves and Hull will be involved, but I’m struggling to think of a third club that join us in relegation. Watford maybe?

Where will you finish?

Right now, I think we’re down. Without any proper reinforcements in the middle of the park, it’s going to be a tough season. I trust the club to bring players in, but right now, I really can’t see us finishing above the bottom three.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

Replacing Barton will not be easy for Burnley and slow transfer business causes concern. However, they may have enough team spirit, and goals from Andre Gray, to stay up. Just. 17th