Burnley: the summer ahead


Sean Dyche – www.telegraph.co.uk

Burnley are up. After a difficult summer that involved rekindling confidence and replacing key men, Sean Dyche has guided the Clarets back to the top flight at the first time of asking. They have not always played entertaining football, yet they retain the grit and discipline required to take points when not at their best, which is why they have not lost a game in 2016. What is in store for the club this summer? Where do they need to improve? And what can we expect from them next season?

For a start, there is one major advantage that Burnley will have over other promoted sides. Namely: Andre Gray. As Jamie Vardy, Callum Wilson and Odion Ighalo prove, strikers who make the smoothest transition from Championship to top flight football combine tenacity and aggression with raw pace. Aside from perhaps Abel Hernandez of Hull, this blog would argue there is no established striker in the top six of the Championship who provides those kind of qualities.

Chris Martin and Tomer Hemed are target men while Jordan Rhodes and Gary Hooper are poachers. Without questioning the undoubted goalscoring ability of those players, it is fair to say that they rarely fashion their chances themselves. They are effective at the top of the Championship, because midfields are set up to give them the perfect service. In the Premier League, strikers have to feed off scraps and that’s when pace and an ability to win the ball off defenders becomes pivotal comes further into play. Gray has those qualities in abundance.

Past form suggests Dyche will stick with his favoured 4-4-2 system, which suits hardworking, functional wide men such as George Boyd and Scott Arfield, due to the need for central midfield cover. Doing so could test his faith in strikers such as Ashley Barnes and Sam Vokes as Premier League material.

Should Dyche choose to play Gray as a lone striker, where the 25-year-old operated successfully at Brentford last season, tweaks will be needed in midfield. More pace and creativity would be required on the flanks, with new wingers capable of providing a consistent counter-attacking outlet. It would also require more depth in central midfield, Dean Marney and David Jones known to struggle with injury. Joey Barton might be 33, but he has shown sufficient work rate and quality on the ball to suggest he is capable of leading Burnley into the Premier League, with some added energy and dynamism next to him.

The defence looks capable of stepping up, goalkeeper Tom Heaton’s performances having gained him international recognition. Michael Keane has formed an excellent centre-back partnership with Ben Mee and the duo, who had been on the books of Manchester United and City respectively, are responsible for a large proportion of the early-season goals.

Mee has won the Fans’ Player of the Year after successfully moving from left-back to centre-back, though his position change means more cover at left-back may be needed. Stephen Ward has provided consistency and balance at left-back since coming into the first eleven in late December. However, if he were to get injured there would be no back-up, Mee moved to left-back and James Tarkowski filled in, though this may disrupt the stability at centre-back.

Dyche must retain the core elements of this organized, resilient and hardworking side. Equally however, hard work alone did not keep Burnley in the Premier League last season, they need quality too. In Barton and Gray, along with crucial summer additions, they should have the players to provide that.