Welcome to Stick or Twist, our weekly column here at The Football Faithful taking a look at the under-fire manager of the moment and ponders whether they deserve the sack or not. This week we take at look at…
Name: Sean Dyche
Club: Burnley FC
Time In Charge: 6 years
Odds For The Sack: 8/1
Burnley‘s 1-0 win over Brighton & Hove Albion could not have come at a better time. Having lost three matches on the bounce, with no wins in eight, the club could have spent this week in the shadow realm that is the Bottom Three had they not secured their third victory of the Premier League season.
Another loss could have lead to the unthinkable: Sean Dyche facing the chop as Burnley boss. While that would seem harsh in the extreme giving everything he’s achieved at the Lancashire club, consider the fact that Burnley’s form over the past two months has matched that of bottom feeders Fulham, who are generally considered to be terrible and sacked their popular manager of nearly three years just a month ago.
Are Burnley as bad as their form and current position in the table would dictate? Have they over-achieved to an unsustainable level up until now or is this just a rough patch? Would sacking Dyche be a knee-jerk reaction or is it the right time for a change?
Cast your mind back to September, when the league campaign is just five games old. Bournemouth come to town in a confident mood having won three games to date, suffering their only loss thus far to Chelsea. Turf Moor has been a fortress for the Clarets, but the Cherries possess no less belief in their ability to beat anyone on their day.
Burnley run out 4-0 winners.
That match remains an outlier for both teams this season, and the further we get away from it the more bizarre it looks. I still can’t fathom that it actually happened this season and not in a different era altogether.
At no point this season (or indeed throughout their tenure in the top tier) have Burnley looked like repeating that feat. In fact, the opposite is the case. Already they have shipped four or more goals in one game on four occasions, to Fulham, West Ham United, Man City and Chelsea. The last three happened in three successive fixtures, while they have conceded three times in one game to Liverpool, Watford, and Olympiakos in the Europa League. Hardly vintage Burnley.
Having been eliminated from that particular competition in August, they can no longer rely on excusing their poor performances on the added distraction of Thursday night football. There is something deeper to their problems which a 1-0 victory over Brighton cannot mask.
Death By Stats
One statistic that smacks you right in the face when you see it is goals conceded per game. Whereas last year Burnley let in a miserly 1.03 goals per game, this season they’re leaking a miserable 2.00 on average. That’s a huge increase for any team, let alone one that literally depends on 1-0 and 0-0 results to get by.
Already they’ve allowed two errors leading to goals, whereas they had three in the entirety of 2017/18. Evidently something is not going right at the back.
The attack, meanwhile, is on pace to match last season’s output, but that may be part of the problem. Last season Burnley were scoring 0.95 goals per game, which has decreased by just 0.01 with 16 games gone in this campaign.
That’s a remarkable level of, well, let’s call it consistency I suppose, but they are getting off less shots per game this term compared to last (8.7 vs 9.9). There could be any number of reasons for these differences in output, but one of the consequences it seems is that the attack’s inability to create more chances is putting more pressure on the defence.
Chris Woods, the club’s marquee signing last season, has just one league goal to his name this season as Dyche struggles to get the most out of his main target man.
Injuries to Stephen Ward and Robbie Brady, integral players for Burnley the last few seasons, have seen them unavailable for much of this season, while Jeff Hendrick has struggled to regain the form that earned him a move to the Premier League in the first place.
That accounts for some of the swing in performance, but a goal difference of -17 tells its own story of a side which has gone from comfortably top half to dogshit in a matter of months.
Dyche’s style of play is not merely a case of Park The Bus. He has devised a clever method of defensive positioning that forces attackers to funnel their shots down the throat of the keeper from range, thus reducing the chances of conceding.
In attack they are fairly basic, get it out wide to swing in crosses, and try score from set pieces. Evidently that’s not the main issue, as they’re scoring at a similar rate to last season, although some of their problems could be solved with a more potent forward line.
This methodology will work against the likes of Brighton, who play something akin to, but not quite Dyche-ball, yet as their recent form has shown, more adventurous and better ball-playing sides will find a way through a Burnley defence that is on its way to doubling the amount of goals conceded from last season.
Burnley’s first ever promotion to the Premier League in 2009 was considered a minor miracle when it happened, one which Dyche repeated in 2014. When the Clarets went straight back down, the club stuck with their man, safe in the knowledge they had the right man. Ever since he has had them punching above their weight, staying in the top flight for three seasons following their Championship title win in 2016.
Every Premier League side earns unfathomable amounts of TV money, but to achieve what he has achieved on the budget he started out on is nothing short of remarkable, on a par with if not more impressive than what Roberto Martinez was able to do with Wigan Athletic. Coupled with the fact that rainy Burnley is hardly the most desirable location for professional footballers, reinforced by the fact that only four squad members were born outside of Britain and Ireland (and one of them is from Iceland, so it’s probably an improvement climate-wise).
I’ve already touched on injuries, but a more pressing issue for Dyche should be the age of his squad. With an average age of 28, his players are getting on in years in certain departments, particularly in defence where 25-year-old full-back Charlie Taylor is the youngest of the lot. The only player younger than him in the whole squad is 19-year-old forward Dwight McNeil, who has just 80 minutes of playing time to his name.
Dyche’s success over the years is probably coming back to bite him now. He has over-achieved to such an extent with Burnley that they are now expected to perform to a certain level. Last season they probably played to their absolute maximum level, finishing just below the glass ceiling of the Top Six.
In that sense, there was always going to be a regression to the mean, although perhaps it’s hit them harder than expected. This season is closer to what their level is however, and Clarets fans should adjust their expectations accordingly, because the battle will be in the lower half of the table more often than not in the years to come.
In order to build on what they’ve already accomplished to date, Burnley will need investment in their squad, an injection of youth to invigorate a slow-paced attack, and for Sean Dyche to evolve his tactics to get the best out of his forward line.