The start of the game was marked by some good pressing and tidy possession football from both sides and although, as the home side, Burnley perhaps shaded possession; it was
who looked the most dangerous hitting the wood work twice in the first half. There were a couple of key reasons for this: firstly, the Swans’ attacking movement was much more positive - Rodgers had clearly highlighted an obvious weakness in Burnley’s combination of a slow central defensive pair and a high-line and the Swansea front three regularly looked to make runs in behind. At the other end, Delfouneso was alarmingly static and Eagles tended to move into crowded areas with Swansea Burnley’s best attacking runs coming from Marney and Elliott breaking from midfield into the right channel.
The second key reason for
’s greater creativity was their better use of the ball. Although Swansea Burnley kept possession well and played some neat football, it was largely in the home side’s own third and play was too concentrated narrowly down the right half of the pitch. Fox consistently took up good positions on the left flank but the Burnley midfield lacked the vision or the quality on the ball to pick him out and stretch the play. In contrast, Swansea were able to make full use of the pitch with Dyer in particular, found a number of times as Swansea switched the play from left to right with the former Claret managing to get the better of Danny Fox in the early stages, cutting the ball back into the box for one of Swansea’s efforts against post. Borini was also played in by a couple of excellent balls down the side of the Burnley centre-backs. The Italian’s movement was impressive all day and he took his goal early in the second half well beating Burnley’s poorly organised defensive line.
The change in
Burnley’s fortunes coincided with the arrival of Chris Iwelumo for the ineffective Nathan Delfouneso on 55 minutes, almost immediately after Borini’s goal. Up until this point the Clarets’ had unsuccessfully tried to match Swansea’s patient passing game and although Howe’s commitment to playing out from the back is admirable - Swansea’s more expansive use of the ball in this game highlighted just how pedestrian and blinkered Burnley’s own passing in midfield is at present. Iwelumo allowed Burnley to play more directly and gave the Clarets a platform to play higher up the pitch. Interestingly, the Scotland international only managed to win one header in the 35 minutes that he was used but his sheer physical presence meant that he was a constant nuisance to the Swansea defenders who suddenly looked uncomfortable clearing their lines which, in turn, allowed the Burnley midfield to press and get on to the ball in much more dangerous areas.
Burnley hit back through an Ashley Williams own goal from an Eagles cross on 57 minutes and the Clarets grew in confidence. Dean Marney in particular, thrived on the change in approach and grew into the game considerably, winning tackles and interceptions in dangerous positions and giving the ball intelligently. I’ve been critical of Marney’s movement and use of the ball in recent games where he’s struggled to influence the game from an unflattering deep-lying midfield position but in this match; pressing on from midfield, the stand in captain was excellent.
As the second half wore on Burnley’s shape became difficult to make out as the Clarets attacking players swarmed the
defence. At times it looked like a clear 4-4-2 (although with Rodriguez picking up one of the Swansea midfielders in the defensive phase) but at others it seemed more like a 4-3-1-2 with Marney, Cork and Elliott narrow in midfield. Either way, it was Burnley who began to look the most likely to win the game as the home side upped the tempo and looked to play some good attacking football in the Swansea half. Clear-cut chances were still at a premium with Swansea defending well but Rodriguez managed to test the keeper from a good shot from the edge of the box shortly before he was pushed in the back whilst challenging for a Wade Elliott cross resulting in a penalty. Chris Eagles has been Burnley’s regular penalty taker this season with Alexander out of the side and the winger did the club captain proud smashing the ball to de Vries left to put Swansea Burnley 2-1 ahead with 13 minutes left to play.
Swans’ manager Brendan Rodgers withdraw the fading Nathan Dyer for Stephen Dobbie shortly after Burnley’s goal, matching the Clarets’ 4-4-2 but Swansea struggled to create anything and couldn’t get back into the game. As the game drew to a close, Howe’s next change was to bring on Graham Alexander in place of Chris Eagles for the club captain’s 1,000th competitive professional appearance – a remarkable achievement. It was just unfortunate that Grezza couldn’t quite manage a perfect end to the game when the skipper’s freekick clipped the bar with the last kick of the game.
This was an interesting game tactically with both sides setting out with very similar opening strategies but implementing them with marked degrees of success forcing a re-think from the home side. Howe is clearly committed to a patient brand of football and will surely look to bring in players during the summer more suited to it but this current Burnley side looks a much better, assured and comfortable outfit, when, like in the second half of this game, they play a more direct and higher tempo game. If Howe has any hope of promotion this season (however unlikely), he may just have to put his footballing beliefs to one side for the next six games.