Monday, 7 March 2011

Burnley 1 Crystal Palace 0: Tactics Report

Burnley lined up as shown in what now seems to be Howe’s preferred 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 hybrid system. Without the ball Burnley dropped into the archetypal two solid banks of four leaving Iwelumo and Eagles forward but in possession the positioning was much more fluid with both wide players looking to come inside to link up with the strikers, both full backs attacking the space on the overlap very positively and Eagles wandering from flank to flank as a central winger looking for space.

Crystal Palace’s went with an interesting, possibly Villarreal inspired, 4-2-2-2 where the two wide men Darren Ambrose and Neil Danns looked to play very centrally between the lines, however the fullbacks rarely got forward enough to provide the necessary width for that shape to be effective and it was easy for Burnley to defend narrowly and congest the play in the middle restricting Palace to only 3 shots on goal throughout the entire game.

In the first half Burnley hugely dominated in terms of possession. The movement of the forward players was excellent and with Palace’s midfield struggling to pick them up, Cork and Marney had time and space to orchestrate from the middle of the pitch rotating the play patiently and retaining possession wonderfully well.  Even with Palace getting back into the game in the second half, Burnley still managed 61% possession for the 90 minutes which just goes to show how well Burnley kept the ball in the first half.

However, despite seeing so much of the ball the Clarets struggled to work too many clear cut chances with Jay Rodriguez’ outstanding strike in the first few minutes coming from outside the box and the only other real chance coming from a point blank Jack Cork header midway through the half.  The stats hint at this with Burnley managing only 4 out of 13 shots on target and this was mainly down to Crystal Palace’s organised defending (particularly the marking of Eagles) and the patient tempo of Burnley’s passing. It was dazzling to watch from an aesthetic point of view but more direct balls from wide positions in the direction of Iwelumo on occasion may have proven more fruitful.

In the second half Burnley’s forward movement lacked quite the same intent of the first; meaning that Crystal Palace could close down Cork and Marney much more effectively and as a result Burnley’s passing disintegrated and the second half became a more scrappy and disjointed affair.  As is becoming common for Howe though, he made an early change in the second half recognising the change in the flow of the game and bringing on Elliott for Iwelumo, which meant Rodriguez moving up front as the lone striker and Wallace shifting to play as a more orthodox winger on the left.  However, it didn’t quite work as with Iwelumo off the pitch the few good crossing positions that the change had created were often wasted. The change also had the effect of opening up the Burnley midfield and Palace had their best spell of the game but fortunately, Howe’s Burnley look a much more resolute outfit and they withstood the Palace pressure well with little real concern. When Alexander came on late in the second half to sure up the midfield the three points looked secure.

This was a very professional performance from Burnley. The first half was very impressive indeed, although Howe will be mildly concerned that they weren’t able to translate their dominance into goals and the second half defensive display was assured and comfortable. As we’ve seen against Portsmouth, Norwich and PNE Howe’s Burnley look to have learned how to defend a lead – something Laws’ Burnley had struggled to do, throwing leads away regularly; most notably at Sheffield United and Norwich.

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