At the time of writing, Burnley look to have achieved what many pundits predicted they wouldn’t before a ball had even been kicked this season – avoid relegation from the Premier League.
With fairly minimal expenditure, Sean Dyche has worked wonders with a Clarets squad mostly made up of those same players who won him the Championship title. This show of faith in his players is, in my opinion, what has kept the team performing so consistently together – their collective spirit and passion for the club was plain to see during the celebrations with the fans at Crystal Palace a couple of weeks ago. Compare that to the likes of already relegated Middlesbrough, who chose to bring in a number of foreign players likely on big wages, and there is no contest for me.
At first glance it may seem rather surprising that Dyche has opted to leave his own big name signings, Steven Defour and Robbie Brady, on the bench for the past few weeks. These were the type of creative players Burnley fans expected would come in and strengthen the squad. However, his persistence in using George Boyd and Scott Arfield as wide midfielders has been a shrewd move; although not necessarily the creative winger which many teams opt for, both will run their socks off, tracking back to help the fullbacks and pressing when necessary. Admittedly, I was one of those sceptical about the unwillingness to change the team selection, but Dyche, as he does so often, has proved me wrong and his stubbornness has in fact paid dividends.
The performances of those in the backline speak for themselves; Michael Keane is without doubt a future England regular, and it seems a done deal that he will be departing for a top six club in the summer. Alongside him, Ben Mee has been a rock and improves each year, whilst fullbacks Stephen Ward and Matt Lowton have grown into their roles as the season has progressed. It’s hard to miss out Tom Heaton, the man who has saved us many precious points and who, in my eyes, should be a strong contender for ‘keeper of the season.
Going forwards, Ashley Barnes has chipped in with some important goals and constantly makes a nuisance of himself. The Gray and Vokes partnership which tore up the Championship has been more subdued this year – perhaps to be expected as both adapt to a different style of play in the Premier League. I’d expect another striker to be coming in during the summer, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens when there is more competition for a starting spot up front.
The gaffer reiterated throughout the season that Burnley had learned from their previous campaigns in the top flight and that this would stand them in good stead. Certainly, they have picked up those vital points from teams in the lower half of the table which they struggled to do last time out, along with pulling off a few shocks against the ‘bigger’ sides at Turf Moor.
It will be interesting to see the club’s transfer movements during the summer. Will Dyche opt to bring in more creative-minded players and alter his system to fit them in, or will he instead stick with what has been so effective this season? We’ll soon find out, but whatever happens, I feel privileged to be seeing my team competing in England's top tier once again.
Burnley fans, do you share these thoughts? Let us know in the comments below!