Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Burnley 1 Ipswich Town 2: Tactics report

A combination of poor form, injury, suspension and even a loan signing all contributed to a slightly unfamiliar Burnley line up for this game. From the team that started against Bristol City: Brian Easton deputised for the suspended Danny Fox at left back, Marvin Bartley replaced the injured Jack Cork,  Nathan Delfouneso came in for Wade Elliott and Everton’s Shane Duffy made his debut in place of Clarke Carlisle in central defence.

For the majority of Eddie Howe’s time as Burnley manager, the team has defended in a 4-4-1-1 shape and attacked with a more fluid 4-2-3-1 but in this game the side kept a more consistent 4-2-3-1.  The positioning of the players in the four advanced positions was also surprising with (as shown above) Delfouneso and Eagles wide and Ross Wallace central in a playmaking role behind Jay Rodriguez. You could understand Howe’s logic here as Chris Eagles’ form has collapsed recently playing in a central role and Nathan Delfouneso had scored an impressive goal for the England U21s during the week cutting in from an advanced left hand side position but unfortunately, the new system didn’t function particularly well.

Burnley started the game brightly but after Ipswich scored against the run of play via a set piece on 17 minutes, the Clarets’ football deteriorated sharply and the Tractor boys were able to quickly follow it up with a somewhat freakish second seven minutes later from England youngster Connor Wickham who headed into the ground causing it to bounce flukily over the head of Grant and into the Burnley net.  With the home team’s confidence drained, a number of crucial flaws in Howe’s setup were increasingly highlighted.  The most decisive of these was perhaps the inability of either Marney or Bartley to take the ball from the defence with any real confidence. Both midfielders are much more comfortable pressing onto the ball and the combination may have been more effective had Burnley played more directly but Duffy and Bikey largely looked to play out from the back which resulted in the Clarets struggling to work the ball up the pitch.  In this respect Burnley certainly missed both Cork and Fox but both Alexander and Elliott might have provided more balance in the midfield.  This problem was worsened further still as Rodriguez continually struggled to win headers against the Ipswich centre back pairing of McAuley and Delaney. Jay has looked ill at ease whenever he’s played as a lone striker this season. The young striker has great ability on the ball but perhaps isn’t quite ready for the physicality of playing the lone striker role in the Championship.  Burnley’s left hand side also failed to function coherently as Delfouneso became a marginal figure on the left flank, strangely looking to hug the touchline rather than drift inside to get involved in build up play or make runs beyond Rodriguez. In turn that restricted the attacking space for Brian Easton meaning Burnley had no real outlet on that side throughout the first half.

These factors, combined with a lack of form and confidence, meant that Burnley’s play was disjointed and Howe looked to change things early by substituting Ross Wallace for Chris Iwelumo after only 37 minutes.  Howe explained his own thinking behind the substitution in an interview on the official club website:

“We didn’t win the tackles and the midfield battle and we looked a little light weight, hence the substitution.  Ross Wallace was on the verge of being sent off, so it was a combination of that and wanting to get Chris Iwelumo on the pitch.  We really lacked steel upfront but I felt he came on and gave us a different dimension and did very well”

Wallace may indeed have been on the verge of being sent off but the experiment of playing the Scottish winger in a central position failed with Wallace largely anonymous  except for wasting Burnley's best chance of the half.  Chris Eagles’ lack of form has meant that Burnley are chronically lacking creative passing in the centre of the pitch and with Elliott inconsistent centrally and Kevin McDonald exiled; Wallace’s failure to adapt to the role is a real worry.  Eddie Howe clearly wants to play a short passing game but if the club are to push for a playoff place the rookie manager may have to settle for something a little more pragmatic in the meantime given the players currently in form and at his disposal.

With Chris Iwelumo on the pitch Burnley did just that and moved to more of an orthodox 4-4-2.  The big Scott gave Burnley a direct option and provided the Clarets with a platform to build on in the opposition half whilst also allowing Marney and Bartley to engage with the Ipswich midfield shorn of the responsibility of having to link the play in their own third.  As a result Burnley ended the half brighter and continued that into the second 45 playing with more tempo and aggression but Ipswich were happy to sit on their lead and Burnley struggled to create anything clear cut. Eagles in particular looked short of ideas out on the right flank and was withdrawn for Wade Elliott midway through the half. Almost immediately after the substitution the ball broke kindly for Dean Marney in the middle of the Ipswich half who played in Jay Rodriguez, the young striker took a touch before driving a powerful shot from the edge of the area into Lee Barrett’s bottom left on 68 minutes.

After the goal Burnley had their best spell of the match working Wade Elliott into a number of good crossing opportunities but the winger couldn’t find any real accuracy. Howe’s last change was to bring on Alexander for Bartley with 15 minutes left to play. Alexander brought the composure to the Burnley midfield it had lacked in the first half but with the Clarets now pushing for an equaliser that quality wasn’t as crucial and the game petered out with Burnley never seriously threatening to overturn the deficit.

This was a disappointing game for Burnley. The result takes the Clarets down to 9th and the momentum built up during Eddie Howe’s opening months as manager has withered. The side simply never looked like a coherent or confident outfit during this game, perhaps understandable given the number of changes but it was particularly worrying to see the players’ heads drop so alarmingly after the opening goal.  It’s games like these however where new managers often learn the most about their players.

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