I don’t have time to write a full article on this match but I thought there were a couple of interesting tactical aspects that are worth covering so here’s a brief tactical report:
Possession and tempo
It’s clear that Howe has really drilled the side on keeping possession during pre-season and it’s welcome to see players looking for space, showing for the ball, being patient in possession and rotating the play but it’s still a work in progress. We’re seeing a lot of the ball (59% v Burton last night) but we’re struggling to create many clear-cut goal scoring opportunities from that possession.
This is mainly because of our tempo which has become slightly one-paced. In England the tendency is to try to play at an unremittingly high tempo for the full 90 minutes but under Howe, Burnley appear (consciously or unconsciously) to be trying to play a more continental type of game which requires us to control and manipulate the tempo of the game more and the players seem to be finding that transition difficult. At the moment we’re keeping the ball patiently but we’re struggling to move up a gear or two once we create a slight opening in the final third and we tend to miss the attacking opportunity as the opposition get back into their shape.
This could be a personnel problem as we don’t really have a natural playmaker in the squad who would instinctively take responsibility for dictating the tempo of the game but Ross Wallace did show some glimpses of being able to do that and I haven’t had chance to see Treacy play yet (although reports from PNE supporters suggest he’s more of an orthodox winger) so hopefully Howe can work on this aspect of our play on the training ground if we’re not able to bring another creative player in.
We’ve now conceded five goals in two games, with three coming against a League Two side, so there’s obviously a problem here. It’s easy to blame individuals for errors and you could probably point the finger at a combination of Mee, Amougou, Fox, Bartley and Grant over the last two matches. These are good players however and if you’re consistently experiencing individual errors by different players in the same areas of the pitch, it’s more likely the result of a structural weakness in your shape.
In the game last night we quite often had both Fox and Trippier very high up the pitch (a necessary feature of having both Elliott and Wallace come inside) as well as both central midfielders playing box-to-box. This left space on transition between our defensive and midfield bands as well as in the channels and Burton had a lot of joy, in the second half in particular, getting on the ball in these spaces and running at Mee and Amougou. Bartley’s pace and energy meant that he managed to get back on a few occasions to win the ball with a last ditch tackle but on others, Mee and especially Amougou looked panicked and disorganised in these 2 v 2 situations.
Eddie Howe eventually brought David Edgar on near the end of the 90 minutes to plug that space between the lines in a change to 4-5-1 and completely nullified the Burton threat in that zone but if we are to persevere with this 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 shape that the manager clearly likes, the central midfielders need to hold and be more positionally disciplined, forming a double pivot in midfield. A strong back square of Mee-Amougou-McCann-Bartley/Marney would provide a solid foundation for the front four and the two fullbacks to play from.
Again, similarly to the tempo issue, this could be another personnel problem as we have no natural holding midfielder in the squad with McCann’s natural instinct being to get forward and Marney and Bartley’s being to press and harry but if it's going to work Howe needs curb those natural instincts unless he's able to bring in a player who can do that job.