Burnley have won just a single match in their last 12 Premier League outings. Burnley have scored a mere six goals since the new year started. Burnley are on track to finish the season barely eking over the 30 goals for mark (31.448 to be exact). Burnley are...going to be playing European football next year?
What a glorious anomaly and anti-advertisement for the beautiful game Sean Dyche’s side have been. In a year where all the plaudits have (deservedly) gone to high-flying and higher-scoring Manchester City, and individual praise has been heaped upon such scoring machines as Mo Salah and Harry Kane, how ironic it is to see success in the form of a club that has scored fewer goals than either of those men have managed on their own (in all competitions).
And succeed they have! Despite their current poor run of form, they maintain a solid grip on the seventh place position, which, assuming the FA Cup is won by a side that finish in the top six, will send Burnley into the Europa League. Picture the gleam of those Thursday night floodlights reflecting off Dyche’s bald head as the Englishman shouts at keeper Nick Pope to “HOOF IT CLEAR, LAD!” Burnley holding on to a trademark one-nil lead against...Milan? Leipzig? Dortmund? Scenes! Absolute scenes!
The Wheels on the Bus…don’t Go ‘Round
But what brought us here? How have we as a collective footballing culture allowed this to happen? Do we -- as we should in most things -- blame Mourinho? No, no, let’s give credit where it’s due: Sean Dyche has turned boredom into an art. A cold, calculated science transformed into a symphony of disappointment for away fans (and neutrals hoping for any form of entertainment, of course).
Dyche has set his side up with the same basic four at the back structure every match this season, which quickly transitions to eight or more at the back as soon as the opposition gains possession. This, of course, ends up being most of the 90 minutes, as Burnley sit third from the bottom on the possession charts, averaging a meager 42.5% per match. They allow the opponent to dictate the flow of the game, waiting patiently in their banks of four until a mistake is made.
More often than not, this comes in the form of an ill-fated shot from outside the box. Burnley allow more shots per game than any other side in the Prem at 15.7, but hardly any of them are liable to trouble Pope in goal as their defensive discipline forces frustrated shots from distance; 45% of the shots they face come from outside the box.
Their defenders are also quick to throw their bodies on the line, averaging a league-leading 5.4 shots blocked per match. The proverbial bus parked in front of the Burnley net has the emergency brake on, and blocks beneath the wheels, resulting in the fourth fewest goals conceded this season.
The Goal is not the Goal
When one can almost expect a clean sheet, all that’s needed to take the full three points is a single goal, and Burnley have done their best to live up to that expectation. Burnley have scored that solitary goal in 12 of their Premier League matches this year, and have taken an impressive 24 out of a possible 36 points from them.
In fact, the Clarets have managed multiple goals in a match only five times all season, and, a Boxing Day draw with Manchester United aside, they have won every one of them.
Who’s scoring these lonely goals, though? Well, Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood lead the side with an almost impressively unremarkable five goals each. Sam Vokes sits third with three, and in fact, only eight goals have come from those outside of the Burnley front three. As patient as they are on defense, they nearly match themselves on offense, having scored precisely zero goals on the counter attack. It takes a while to put the bus into drive.
Good at Being Bad
So, how do they stack up to the brightest of the boring in Premier League history? Should they fail to hit that 30 goal mark, which is looking more and more possible as the year goes on, they’d join the illustrious ranks of only two other sides to have survived relegation and scored so infrequently:
2001-02’s Sunderland, who finished one place safe in 17th, having scored five goals in their last nine matches
2006-07’s Manchester City, (yes, young readers, there was a time when the blue half of Manchester was largely irrelevant), whose leading goal scorer on the year was schoolyard bully Joey Barton, his whopping six league goals leading City to the relative comfort of 14th place
Neither of these sides had the chance at European glory on the horizon, however. Indeed, the former’s luck would run out the following year, Sunderland finishing bottom of the table with 21 goals scored, and 19 points accrued.
City on the other hand were only two years away from an influx of oil money that would assure they could buy their way out of such goal droughts for years to come.
Overall, the ground Burnley are walking on is largely untread. Success in the Premier League has historically been dependent on goal scoring prowess, but Sean Dyche is looking more and more likely to turn that trend around.
Will others follow in his footsteps? Total football replaced by total defense? Will Burnley’s eleven men behind the ball take Europe by storm, becoming the new “continental” fashion? God, I hope not. But hey, if it works, it works. Hoof it clear, lad!
Author: Busby Cagle