It’s hard to muster too much enthusiasm when previewing a game we’re, in all likelihood, going to lose. (To be honest, it’s hard to muster too much enthusiasm full stop right now).
And it’s painful enough to write about a defeat after said event, but to set the scene for said defeat before a ball has been kicked is doubly tricky… and painful… and grim.
So I cheated.
I went in search of a Burnley fan/writer/blogger to whom I could ask a few daft questions and whose words would be far more interesting, informative and uplifting than my own.
Luckily for me, my first port of call answered in the affirmative and that man was Andy Jones – Burnley’s voice at The Athletic, aka the Clarets’ Michael Bailey.
In order to delay the inevitable pain because I’m a coward, I went for a soft launch…
A Burnley fan through and through? Or reporting on the Clarets in a purely professional capacity?
Purely professional, I’m actually a Liverpool fan but I had followed Burnley’s underdog story with Sean Dyche leading the way with interest before starting to cover the club in 2019. However, now that my job involves me practically living and breathing Burnley, you naturally grow to become a fan because you get to know the players and staff so you want Burnley to succeed. They are definitely my second club.
What route did you take to finally arrive at The Athletic? Via the local press like NCFC’s Michael Bailey?
I was very fortunate in that it is my first job in the industry. I studied Sports Journalism at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston and graduated with a First class honours degree. Luckily, it was the same summer The Athletic launched in the United Kingdom and my lecturer put me in touch with them and it went from there.
I can’t put off talking football any longer…
At the start of the campaign did you foresee this being a season of struggle at the wrong end of the table for Dyche and his men?
I thought they were going to be a part of the relegation battle, yes. Given the struggles of last season and an ageing squad getting older it was always going to be a challenge. They recruited well in the summer under new owners ALK Capital but ultimately, the lack of investment under the previous regime was going to catch up to them at some point. You cannot write a Sean Dyche side off though.
Why have they struggled? What’s changed?
It is difficult to pinpoint a particular reason as to why but they have had a number of problems at different points in the season. Not a whole lot has actually changed, something Dyche has pointed out all season, but they have found themselves on the wrong side of the fine margins too often.
The number one reason is they have saved their worst performances of the season for the games against the teams around them. In previous seasons, Burnley have scrapped their way to victories in those games but they have failed to win the must-win games. That changed with the win over Everton and they need to continue in that vein against Norwich.
They have struggled defensively, particularly at the start of the season, with mistakes and defensive lapses, which you generally do not associate with Burnley. They had tightened up in 2022 before their recent run of four defeats and they will be targeting returning to those levels and racking up clean sheets.
At the other end, goals have been hard to come by. Maxwel Cornet remains the biggest threat but they have not been clinical enough from the chances they have created.
Has Dyche persisted with his direct, high-tempo, high-pressing style this season?
Yes, that’s the style that has historically brought Burnley success and kept them in the league. It has felt less effective this season but despite that the philosophy has remained with Dyche and his coaching team trusting and believing in what has worked.
With Wout Weghorst coming in, in January, he is a different type of player to Chris Wood preferring the ball played into feet rather than in the air or down the channels. His teammates are still adjusting to that tweak but off the ball the aim of pressing from the front remains while playing long passes to create second balls and get into the opposition half before using the ball effectively remains Plan A.
And, related to the above question, are the locals happy with that type of football, given that the Burnley of old – Martin Dobson et al – were renowned for their cultured, passing football.
(I guess that we [City] are a perfect example of why it’s not possible to play the possession game with a limited budget in the PL).
There have been frustrations at times this season with Burnley’s style and the effectiveness of it. When you have only won four games all season, with only one coming before mid-February it is not surprising that questions have been asked.
Dyche has spoken repeatedly about his team not being too far away and, as I mentioned before, if things are not going horribly wrong, he sticks to his beliefs. With the exception of the 4-0 loss to Chelsea, their biggest margin of defeat has been two and they’ve drawn 12 games. That tells you they have been competitive.
Dyche found a system (4-4-2) and way of playing that he felt suited his players best and has stuck with it. Signings such as Maxwel Cornet suggest that may evolve in seasons to come but it comes down to results. No doubt there would be fewer question marks or complaints if Burnley were winning.
Has there been any discernible shift in ethos, or direction or spending power since ALK Capital took over in December 2020? There’s an ongoing debate here with Delia Smith and her husband insisting on staying put and, in doing so, giving the club no choice but to be ‘self-funding’.
There has been a noticeable change since the takeover. They are ambitious owners who want to grow the club commercially on a global scale. For a club the size of Burnley that is always going to be difficult and requires innovation.
In the transfer market, they have loosened the purse strings, which was not difficult given the lack of investment in the final years of the previous ownership, and also been more open to trying to purchase players from abroad, always seen as too big a risk previously.
The big question mark remains over the takeover being a leveraged buy-out. Burnley, for so long a club run without debt, now is in debt. ALK have maintained they believe they have been responsible for the finances of the deal and assured fans they have planned for relegation. Given how much of Burnley’s revenue is from Premier League TV money, however, there is always going to be that uncertainty if they do go down.
What will it take, performance wise, from here on in for the Clarets to garner enough points to survive? To be fair, you have the perfect opportunity for three more on Sunday.
Keep repeating results as they did against Everton on Wednesday essentially. Easier said than done, of course. They have to win the winnable games and, as you say, they have a good opportunity against Norwich.
The fixture list presents opportunities to pick up points and they have to be bang on it for all nine of the remaining games, keeping it tight at the back and being clinical in front of goal because they don’t create a bucket load of chances.
We’ve already accepted our fate. We’ve been pitiful – but can you see us having enough to make a fist of the Championship next season?
I don’t see why not. You did so last time and you have a manager in Dean Smith who got promoted with Aston Villa so is experienced in the Championship. The club appears set up sensibly to use the Premier League money to put themselves in a strong position.
Parachute payments should be an advantage and there appears to be a trend with the teams going down being the most likely to come back up as we have seen with Fulham and Bournemouth in this campaign. That being said, the Championship is such a tough league, it is not going to be easy.
Thanks for being nice. You’e more confident than me.
Finally… standard… score prediction for Sunday?
I think it’s going to be tight but after Burnley’s win on Wednesday, I think they can back it up with another. I’ll go 2-1.