BMGH is back in time for the new season to preview how Eddie Howe’s Clarets might line-up to face Watford this Saturday and beyond.
It’s been a quiet summer in terms of new signings with only winger Keith Treacy being brought in from League One Preston North End on a permanent basis, supplemented by Manchester City youngsters Ben Mee and Kieron Trippier on loan for the season and new reserve goalkeeper Jon Stewart.
With the parachute payments set to fall from £18m to £8m at the end of the season and a watchful eye on the new Football League break even rule, Burnley’s transfer policy appears to have been dictated by the need to reduce the wage bill and bolster the club’s balance sheet with a stoically cautious board eschewing the high stakes promotion gamble demanded by some of the clubs fans. As such, we’ve seen senior pro’s Graham Alexander, Clarke Carlisle and Chris Iwelumo leave the club alongside Kevin McDonald and the club has also cashed in on the dwindling contracts of Chris Eagles and Tyrone Mears, both sold to Owen Coyle’s Bolton Wanderers for a reported joint fee of £3m.
Those deals have left the squad a little thin and lacking in experience, although Howe has spoken of the club’s intent to replace both Eagles and Iwelumo and it also looks as though the development squad is to be given a welcome fast track into the first team. Alex McDonald in particular has been given a generous amount of playing time during pre-season and will be expected to challenge for a spot. Furthermore, the unexpected graduation of 17 year old Steven Hewitt from scholar to first team during the summer was a clear statement of Eddie Howe’s commitment to youth. The chairman Barry Kilby also confirmed in a recent interview with the official website that this approach extended beyond the coaching staff, explaining that the club would be returning to a value added approach to transfers and squad development. Notably, the average age of the squad has fallen dramatically since Eddie Howe’s arrival with all of the manager’s signings falling in the 18-25 age bracket.
In terms of how the team might line up v Watford on Saturday, there are a few positions arguably up for grabs but regardless of personnel, I’d expect Howe to go with the same general 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 shape that he used in the friendly v Sunderland (see below).
For the majority of Howe’s time at both Bournemouth and Burnley he’s mostly favoured to play with a back four and two central midfielders but the front four has been kept reasonably flexible, switching between 4-4-2 and 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1. However, with Chris Eagles moving on, Burnley now lack the kind of player who looks to get on the ball and be creative in pockets of space between the lines (Ross Wallace was tried in that position v Ipswich last season and was hauled off after an ineffective 37 minutes) so I would expect Howe to opt for two central strikers until a player in this mould is brought in.
As we saw against Sunderland however, it’s unlikely that the two wide players will stay wide as wingers and look to get to the by-line as you would expect in a traditional English 4-4-2. In that game, both Wallace and Elliott looked to come inside both with and without the ball to link up with the midfield/strikers, play through balls for Jay and Pato and shoot direct at goal.
The screenshot above (many thanks to Darren Bentley for giving me permission to use this image taken from Clarets Player) shows this movement with Wade Elliott picking up the ball near the centre circle and passing to Wallace just ahead, also in a central position who goes on to drive forward and shoot narrowly wide.
This shape is quite reminiscent of the 4-2-2-2 Juan Carlos Garrido used last season at Villarreal, with Wallace and Elliott playing the roles of Carzola and Cani; especially, when you consider the short, possession based game the Clarets have looked to play in pre-season. If Burnley can manage to come anywhere near to that style of play this season then the Turf Moor faithful are in for a real treat.
Another interesting of feature of Burnley’s play in pre-season is how the side look to re-start from goal kicks.
As above, the fullbacks push high, the centre backs pull wide and one of the central midfielders, most often McCann, drops very deep to take the ball off the goalkeeper before looking to turn out and play the ball into midfield.
We first saw Burnley do this in the last game of the 2010/11 season v Cardiff and it solves one of the key tactical problems Burnley experienced last season, namely, failing to play out from the back. This is straight out of the Barcelona play book and it’s something Blackpool used last season with mixed success in the Premier League as when opposition sides chose to man mark Charlie Adam and the central striker picked up Cathcart, the ball had to either go long or to Ian Evatt who occasionally got caught in possession. Although Howe has brought in Ben Mee, who looks assured and comfortable on the ball, presumably with this style of play in mind, Burnley still have the technically limited Michael Duff who has never been a ball playing defender and Andre Amougou (formerly Andre Bikey) who is prone to lapses in concentration. As a result, this may be something that other Championship sides look to exploit and is an area to watch out for as the season progresses.
As well as defensive frailties it also hints at two key weaknesses in the current Burnley squad with neither Marney or Bartley as comfortable on the ball or as expansive in their range of passing as McCann. It’s doubtful that either could play this deep-lying regista role anywhere near as effectively as the Burnley captain should McCann be lost to injury or suspension. To expand on that point, both are willing to show for the short ball from defence when necessary but tend to play back the way they are facing rather than turn and so the possession gets stuck in the Burnley half (this is common feature of England’s play at international level).
If that turned out to be the case, the Clarets would again be forced to play more directly but, given the sale of Iwelumo, Burnley now lack the kind of player capable of holding the ball up with his back to goal. Jay has shown glimpses that he may develop this ability but last season at least, he still lacked the physical presence to play this role in the Championship and may struggle to win the ball in these situations under pressure from the division’s more agricultural sides. Therefore it’s desirable that both vacancies in the squad are filled before the transfer window closes if we are to mount a serious and sustained promotion bid.
There may have been air of disappointment amongst supporters following the club’s slow moving transfer dealings and the sales of Eagles and Mears but for me there’s plenty to get excited about looking forward to the new season. It looks as though we may be one of the most attractive footballing sides in the division this season and Eddie Howe also appears to be giving the club’s young pro’s a chance to make their way in their game which is positive. We also have a strong first XI with Fox, Amougou, McCann and Rodriguez amongst the best players in their positions in the Championship, even if the squad does lack depth at this point. However, hopefully the manager can add to the squad further and we’ll be well placed to challenge at the right end of the table. Enjoy the season everybody.