(Writer’s Note: This is the 14th of what will hopefully be 20 team previews in 20 days. Or at the very least, all 20 teams prior to the 2018-19 Premier League’s season-opener between Manchester United and Leicester City on August 10. Links to previous teams can be found at the bottom of the page)
Manager: Sean Dyche (Hire Date: Oct. 30, 2012)
Tenure Length: 2nd/20 in Premier League and 5th/92 in Top 4 leagues of English football
2017-18 Record: 14-12-12, 54 points, 7th in Premier League
2017-18 Goals scored: 36
2017-18 Goal Difference: minus-3
Number of Current Consecutive Seasons in Premier League: 3 (includes 2018-19)
Last Promotion: 2016
Last Relegation: 2015
2017-18 Carabao Cup: Third-round loss on penalties (Leeds United)
2017-18 FA Cup: Third-round loss (Manchester City)
Burnley’s season got off to a dream start as it ambushed title-holder Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, taking full advantage of a red card to Gary Cahill and scoring three goals before hanging on for a 3-2 victory. After a surprising home loss to West Bromwich Albion, the Clarets’ lone defeat in the next 10 matches came to Manchester City as they racked up 19 points and climbed to sixth in the table.
That stretch ended with a controversial 1-0 loss at Arsenal on Nov. 26 in which the Gunners received a stoppage-time penalty. Burnley, though, would claim points in four of its next five matches and reach its high-water mark of fifth in the table after a scoreless draw at Brighton on Dec. 16.
That stalemate, however, would also be the start of an 11-match run without a victory in which Burnley recorded six draws. One of those points was a 1-1 draw at home versus Manchester City, which had steamrolled the Clarets 4-1 in FA Cup play.
Burnley strengthened its position for play in Europe with five wins on the bounce, putting enough space between itself and both Everton and Leicester City for seventh place. Even with a season-ending five-match winless run (0-3-2) the Clarets finished five points clear of the Toffees for seventh and claimed the Europa League spot because Champions League-bound and reigning title-holder Manchester City won the Carabao Cup.
POTENTIAL STARTING XI
Having the luxury of seeing Burnley play its first-leg Europa League qualifier versus Aberdeen, manager Sean Dyche has opted for a 4-1-4-1 set-up that will likely morph back into his customary 4-4-2 when Ashley Barnes is 100 percent.
That said, the blow of losing Pope — England’s No. 3 keeper — for at least three months is a huge one. While understudy Tom Heaton did not travel to Aberdeen because of a calf injury, he is expected to deputise less than a season removed from suffering the same injury that led to Pope becoming the No. 1 for the Clarets.
Anders Lindegaard, who conceded a penalty five minutes after he entered for Pope in last Thursday’s match, moves up to No. 2 until Pope is healthy enough to return.
Each member of the back four started at least 25 league matches in 2017-18, and in front of them, Jack Cork logged the maximum 3,420 minutes in league play. The central midfield pairing of Hendrick and Westwood will probably start the first few league matches until Robbie Brady and Steven Defour are 100 percent recovered from knee surgeries in December and January, respectively.
On the right flank, Johann Berg Gudmundsson will try to kick into a higher gear after totaling eight assists for the Clarets and helping Iceland to its first World Cup appearance this summer, and Aaron Lennon will try to use his pace on the left and finally net his first Burnley goal in league play after arriving from Everton in the January window.
Barnes, who has dealing with minor knocks throughout the summer though fully recovered from shoulder surgery after suffering a dislocation in the second-to-last match last term, scored six of his nine goals in Burnley’s final 11 league contests. He will partner with Chris Wood, who had a team-leading 10 goals, while Sam Vokes continues to be influential as the top forward off the bench after scoring the equaliser at Aberdeen last week.
THE NEW GUYS AND THE GONE GUYS
As is usually the case with Burnley, there was very little noticeable turnover in the summer via the transfer market. Midfielder Scott Arfield went to Rangers on a free transfer, though Pope’s injury has put the Clarets in the market for a keeper. Dyche has reportedly reached out to Southampton regarding Fraser Forster’s availability since he has slipped to No. 3 on the depth chart for the Saints.
The other big news the past few days is the possibility of veteran striker Peter Crouch coming to Turf Moor. The 37-year-old scored five goals in trying to help Stoke City escape the drop and has 108 Premier League goals spanning a career entering its 17th season.
There was talk of interest in Swansea City midfielder Sam Clucas earlier this month, but nothing has materialised as the transfer window is in its final fortnight. The Clarets also reportedly made a run at Clucas’ teammate Alfie Mawson, but it appears the centre back will join promoted Fulham.
THE GUY WORTH SEEING
Johann Berg Gudmundsson (RM)
The Iceland international made himself indispensable for the Clarets last season with eight assists in league play — five more than any other player on the team. Burnley’s dead-ball specialist, Gudmundsson acquitted himself well in Russia — starting two matches for the Strakarnir Okkar and was sorely missed in their 2-0 loss to Nigeria in which he was sidelined with a calf injury.
Gudmundsson will continue taking on a large share of the playmaking responsibilities while the rest of the expected starters get back to 100 percent health and be the key link between defence and attack for Burnley in the early stages of the season.
Even with Burnley’s success last season, oddsmakers still carry some speculation about the Clarets being able to sustain their momentum this term. They carry the sixth-shortest odds at Ladbrokes to be relegated at 7/2. They also carry 1/6 odds at finishing in the bottom half of the table, while a top-10 finish is listed at 10/3 odds.
There are longer odds at breaking the ceiling for a top-six finish in 2018/19 at 25/1 odds, and moving up from Europa League to Champions League play via a top-four spot checks in at 100/1 odds.
FIRST FOUR MATCHES/LAST FOUR MATCHES
Aug. 12 — Southampton (17th) A
Aug. 18 — Watford (14th) H
Aug. 25 — Fulham (N/A) A
Sept. 1 — Manchester United (2nd) A
April 20 — Chelsea (5th) A
April 27 — Manchester City (1st) H
May 4 — Everton (8th) A
May 12 — Arsenal (6th) H
The one million pound question surrounding Burnley is: How will it deal with actual expectations after its best league finish in 44 years? By qualifying for play in Europe for the first time since 1967, even if it fails to navigate all three two-legged qualifiers just to reach the group stages of Europa League proper, the Clarets are no longer this fuzzy, feel-good success story fighting to make it in the blood-and-thunder Premier League.
There is no longer a naivete to them — their identity as a tireless, hard-working, defence-first side who are lethal on the counter is well-known throughout England. Dyche’s men love to punch above their weight and know how to nick points — they had one win and three draws on the road against the top six clubs last season.
Still, for all that graft, Burnley desperately need more goals. The 36 netted in league play were the fewest of any team in the top half of the table and barely more than one-third the haul of champion Manchester City (106). Barnes and Wood are a solid tandem, and Vokes a viable option off the bench, but the Clarets need Lennon to poach some goals. Some of that will take care of itself when Brady adds to the playmaking potential,
And Burnley must also finally win a penalty either by hook or by crook to end a perplexing drought that now spans 43 matches in league play since Vokes converted from the spot at Goodison Park on April 15, 2017. In the grand scheme of things, this matters little to the club’s mindset on a match-to-match basis, but in a season of new challenges both home and abroad, every little advantage helps.
Losing Pope for an extended period of time is a huge blow, but Burnley does have a capable stand-in with Heaton, who had been the Clarets’ No. 1 for four seasons prior to 2017-18.
It is possible Burnley finish a few rungs lower just on the basis of its murderous run-in, though if things shake out the right way, those final two matches against Everton and Arsenal could serve as overall referendums at the end of a season that begins with high hopes.
PREVIOUS TEAMS’ PREVIEWS
July 18 — Fulham July 28 — Newcastle United
July 19 — Cardiff City July 29 — Leicester City
July 20 — Wolverhampton July 30 — Everton
July 21 — Southampton July 31 — Burnley
July 22 — Huddersfield Town August 1 — Arsenal
July 23 — Brighton and Hove Albion August 2 — Chelsea
July 24 — Watford August 3 — Liverpool
July 25 — West Ham United August 4 — Tottenham Hotspur
July 26 — Bournemouth August 5 — Manchester United
July 27 — Crystal Palace August 6 — Manchester City
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