Over the last few seasons, Burnley have gained themselves a reputation. Notoriously stubborn and difficult to break down at home, the Clarets have been highlighted as one of the Premier League’s weakest teams on the road.
During the 2016/17 campaign, Sean Dyche’s side accrued a paltry seven points from their 19 away games, comprised of a solitary win, four draws and 14 defeats, with a 2-0 win at Crystal Palace their sole success.
Burnley finished 16th last season and, although Dyche repeatedly insisted that he was unconcerned by his side’s inability to win away from Turf Moor, deep down he knew that they would have to improve in that area if they were to climb up the table.
This season, Burnley look like a different package away from the home comforts of their Lancashire base. They started the season with a thrilling and surprising 3-2 victory at Stamford Bridge, the home of champions Chelsea, following that up with hard-fought draws at Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool.
Three of the most daunting away assignments and they have emerged from them unbeaten and proudly holding their heads up. Perhaps this is a more confident, competent and enterprising Burnley, a side who are less frightened by the prospect of conceding away from home.
In recent games, we have seen Burnley push higher up the pitch in the quest for goals. It is both refreshing and timely – and precisely what they need if they are to break into the top half of the table.
Seizing their opportunities
The 3-2 scoreline against Chelsea did not tell the full story. Gary Cahill, the Blues captain, was sent off in the 13th minute for clumsy studs-up- lunge on Steven Defour. Playing most of the game with a numerical advantage, it would have been very negative for Burnley to sit with ten men behind the ball.
However, to their credit, they started to play football. And it paid dividends soon after. In the 24th minute, following a spell of sustained possession, Burnley opened the scoring through Sam Vokes. With that, their confidence was lifted and, with Chelsea hurting, Burnley pressed for more.
A key facet of Burnley’s play was the marauding Stephen Ward down the left flank. His link-ups with Robbie Brady had caused a few headaches for Chelsea, but it was a one-two with Jack Cork on the edge of the area that led to Burnley’s second. Just before half-time, Vokes added his second – Burnley’s third – to catapult them into dreamland.
Yes, Chelsea may have been without their captain and coming off a chaotic end to their transfer window, but the win at Stamford Bridge offered Dyche encouragement on what could be achieved with a more ambitious approach to away games.
Interestingly, Burnley have created more chances on the road this season, with 23, compared to at home, where they have only created 19. Although they are averaging less possession away with 39 per cent compared 52 per cent at home, they are proving to be more effective with the ball.
Furthermore, their 48 per cent shot accuracy in away games towers above the 22 per cent at home, highlighting how Dyche’s men have adapted well to assignments on their travels.
If they can emulate that kind of efficiency at home, they should have no problem finishing much higher than last season.
Impressing at Wembley
Unfortunately, Premier League paradise can be brutally short-lived. A week later, and Burnley found themselves losing at home to West Bromwich Albion. Nevertheless, they recuperated in time to beat rivals Blackburn Rovers in the Carabao Cup at Ewood Park before travelling to Wembley to face Spurs.
A quick glance at the stats will tell you that Mauricio Pochettino’s side dominated the game from start to finish without winning. They had 67 per cent possession, 28 shots and completed 300 more passes than Burnley with 503 but, once again, these numbers fail to offer the full story.
After just five minutes, Burnley showed their attacking intent. After pressing in the final third, they won a corner, from which James Tarkowski headed over. Two minutes later, Brady slipped surged in behind before forcing a save from Hugo Lloris.
Four minutes into the second half, Spurs took the lead through Real Madrid transfer target Dele Alli. It was a hammer blow for Burnley who, led by the outstanding Tarkowski at the back, had put in a massive shift to that point. Not only had they defended stoutly, they had sprung counter-attacks which had caused problems for the Spurs defence.
Most chances created from wide areas in the Premier League so far:
Using the width. pic.twitter.com/hCEdgjnoPL
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 25, 2017
While the Burnley of last year may have wilted, the Clarets refused to give up hope. Making a positive double substitution, Dyche brought on new signing Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes with half an hour remaining.
Just nine minutes later, Wood had slipped in behind the Spurs defence but was marginally offside. The Clarets drove forward in numbers, sensing that Spurs were vulnerable and nervous considering their poor record at Wembley.
While Spurs missed a slew of chances with Burnley leaving gaps at the back, Burnley were rewarded for their efforts; Wood scoring a stoppage-time equaliser to clinch an immensely satisfying point.
Burnley continued to defy expectations when they held Liverpool to a 1-1 draw at Anfield. The Clarets were the first side to play Liverpool there after Arsenal’s capitulation, but Dyche’s team were far more resolute.
It would be foolish to suggest that Burnley stood toe-to-toe with Liverpool. They didn’t. The Reds dominated possession and bombarded the Burnley goal with 35 shots, but that was to be expected.
Liverpool, in full flow, are a devastatingly slick and dynamic force but, crucially, Burnley were just as clinical as Jürgen Klopp’s team and with a fraction of the chances.
Three goals against Chelsea, a last-gasp equaliser at Spurs and another goal at Anfield are signs that Burnley perhaps possess more of a clinical edge away from home. They failed to score in nine away games last season, but Dyche has made the appropriate steps to add to their attacking options with the club record £15million capture of Wood from Leeds United.
Brady: the creative lynchpin
What has been consistent throughout Burnley’s season so far, both home and away, is the creativity of Brady.
The Republic of Ireland international was signed from Norwich City in January and has begun to assert himself as the chief creative force for Burnley.
It was Brady’s defence-splitting through ball that teed up Wood for the equaliser at Wembley, and that was a striking demonstration of what the 25-year-old is capable of.
His pass accuracy stands at only 61 per cent. But delve a bit deeper and you will discover that it’s because he attempts more crosses and through balls than any of his teammates.
Defour, for example, has a significantly higher percentage of 85 per cent, but he does not attempt nearly as many crosses as Brady. The Irishman has attempted 44 so far this season to the Belgian’s 12. Brady has also created two ‘big chances’, per the Premier League’s official website, to Defour’s zero.
With Brady’s quality from set-pieces and general range of passing and crossing, it looks as though a link-up with Wood who, at 6ft 3in, you would expect to win his fair share of headers, will be a key aspect of Burnley’s play on the road this season.
Seeing that they have avoided defeat to three of the best teams in the division already, that should give them licence to express themselves against some of the ‘smaller’ teams. If anything, the results against Chelsea, Spurs and Liverpool should give Burnley the belief that they can make winning on their travels a regular thing.
Do that along with another season of solid home performances, and Burnley should greatly improve on last season’s 16th-placed finish.
Tarkowski’s titanic defending
While we have been offered glimpses of a braver, more intrepid Burnley, they have had to defend brilliantly in order to come away with five points from three away games – and Tarkowski has been central to that.
The 24-year-old has made 62 clearances this season, more than any other player in the entire league. He has also made 12 blocks, which is the second-highest of anyone. They are mightily impressive stats and are indicative of the kind of form which has frustrated the likes of Harry Kane, Sadio Mané and Michy Batshuayi.
Against Spurs, he won nine aerial duels, made ten clearances and won three tackles. In the space of four frenetic first-half minutes at Wembley, he blocked efforts from Alli and Kane, and was hailed as the standout performer from that game.
Tarkowski also impressed at Anfield, helping the Clarets pick up an unlikely point.
With the score locked at 1-1, Liverpool opened up the Burnley defence as Daniel Sturridge lifted a ball over the top to James Milner. With the Kop poised to erupt in celebration, Tarkowski brilliantly blocked Milner’s effort to deny Liverpool what would have been a winner. That is the kind of decisive contributions Tarkowski has been making for Burnley at the back so far this season.
Defending strongly will, of course, shape Burnley’s fortunes on the road this season, and Tarkowski will certainly be a key asset for Dyche at the back.
Beyond their usual defensive strategy, though, Burnley have expressed a willingness to be adventurous and it could be stand them in very good stead come the end of the season.