Burnley v Tottenham Hotspur Preview: overachievers v underachievers?

Sean Dyche – skysports.com

It seems counter-intuitive to refer to Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur as the Premier League’s underachievers, but they have fallen short of expectations this term.

Having spent plenty of money on a squad that has finished second in successive seasons, minus Kyle Walker, they should be higher than seventh. Above them sit Burnley, who finished 14 places below the North Londoners last season and signed a combination of good Championship players and Premier League cast-offs.

Jack Cork arguably comes into the latter category, having endured a difficult 16/17 campaign with Swansea, but he has looked a class above this term. The English midfielder’s performances alongside Belgian Steven Defour, who he could face in a World Cup clash in Kaliningrad this summer, have given the midfield something different to what it had last season.

Cork and Defour have completed 581 and 582 accurate short passes respectively, the 18th and 19th most out of 78 players who have played central midfield in the Premier League this season. In the same list for the previous campaign, Jeff Hendrick and Dean Marney were the highest-placed Burnley midfielders in 43rd and 50th respectively.

There is little point hiding the fact that the Clarets still go long – they have done so 77 times per game this season. When they do get into the opposing half though to pick up knock-downs and second balls, they have shown more composure and intelligent decision making and that has lifted them up another level.

Tottenham’s midfield on the other hand, needs work. Much had been made of Dele Alli’s form in the previous two seasons – and his underwhelming recent displays – but the common denominator is Mousa Dembele.

The Belgian had been an underestimated component to Spurs’ success because of his capacity to control a game and ensure that the team has lots of possession in the opposing half. This season, his performances have been affected by injury and that has been where Alli has struggled.

As talented as the 21-year-old is, he shines best in the final third when his teammates have done the leg work, but isn’t the type of player that can influence proceedings when those behind him are off-colour. At Man City last week, Dembele and Harry Winks were bullied off the ball in a way that the injured Victor Wanyama surely would not have been. Not only this, they also missed the influence at centre-back of Toby Alderweireld, who has returned to full training this week but will remain out of first team action until February.

In the ex-Southampton man’s absence, Dier had a poor game at centre-back and Dyche might be tempted to start Ashley Barnes, who is capable of harrying him and Jan Vertonghen. Neither Chris Wood nor Sam Vokes are in especially strong goalscoring form at present, but Barnes is the type of striker that will chase every loose ball and that is what Burnley will need.

At the other end, they will be without the suspended James Tarkowski. Centre-back Kevin Long proved an able deputy though in the 1-0 win over Watford, when he replaced the then injured Ben Mee, who he will partner on Saturday teatime. The duo will hope to keep out Harry Kane, who can be lethal on his day but leads an attack that has scored one goal or none in six of their last eight league games.

Burnley, who boast one of the top flight’s stingiest back-lines, could make it a long evening for Tottenham in East Lancashire.

The Football Lab’s Verdict: 1-0