Burnley v Crystal Palace: Clarets underrated?

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Sean Dyche

Quite how Burnley remain odds-on third favourites for relegation with the bookies is difficult to fathom. There might not be too much between the Clarets and the bottom three in terms of quality, but in terms of work ethic and unity, the gap is huge.

In their first 10 games, they have played seven of the top nine plus last season’s champions. They dominated Swansea and stifled Arsenal before refereeing decisions went against them and have been without their star striker, Andre Gray for over a month.

In the absence of last season’s 23-goal top scorer, Sean Dyche has deviated from his usual 4-4-2 formation, instead going 4-5-1 with Sam Vokes as the lone striker. That has not quite worked away from home, when their midfield sits deep and Vokes, who does not have the pace to lead a counter-attack, can be isolated. In home games, the 4-5-1 has worked because two or three midfielders, such as the impressive Johann Berg Gudmundsson, push further up to support the attack.

Gudmundsson may have some joy down the right, because Crystal Palace have looked weak at left-back. Since Pape Souare’s August injury, Martin Kelly has been forced to play there despite being right-footed. Another problem for Alan Pardew’s side has been their poor defending at set pieces. That is particularly concerning, given that Burnley have scored 50% of their eight Premier League goals from dead ball scenarios – only three teams are more reliant on those situations.

Palace’s two goals against Liverpool on Saturday both came from James McArthur, but they did not show much invention during the game, the Irishman’s efforts both originated from hopeful punts up-field. Burnley have been passed around at times this season against Southampton, Leicester and Chelsea. However, they are used to dealing with long balls in the Championship and it is hard to see their defence struggling against the more simplistic play.

Last time this fixture was played, the Clarets surrendered a two-goal lead against the Eagles, losing 3-2. Back in January 2015, Burnley lacked the ruthlessness required in the Premier League while Palace had a fit, energetic squad. Developments in the subsequent 22 months suggest both of those trends have changed.

The Football Lab’s Verdict: 2-1

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