Where it’s gone wrong for Burnley and will they be bottom at Christmas?

29.11.2023 12:23:10 Adam England
Turf Moor, home of Burnley FC
  •  Burnley are sitting at the foot of the Premier League table after 13 games
  •  They got promoted with 101 points last season at the first time of asking
  •  Manager Vincent Kompany is under pressure but sticking with his preferred tactical approach

 

When Burnley got promoted back to the Premier League at the first time of asking in the spring, with a whopping 101 points, things looked good for the Clarets. After six consecutive seasons in the Premier League under Sean Dyche, they were relegated in 2022, and it prompted a change in direction. 

Gone was ‘Dyche-ball’, as it was often called, that direct, no-nonsense style of play often associated with the dying breed of middle-aged British managers, and in came Vincent Kompany

A former Manchester City and Belgium captain, and arguably one of the best centre-backs of the Premier League era, Kompany came to Burnley with a rich footballing background. Since leaving Man City in 2019, he rejoined Belgium club Anderlecht as player-manager before stepping down to concentrate solely on playing, but the following August retiring from playing and becoming head coach.

Some were dubious after he arrived at Burnley in June 2022, but he proved any doubters wrong with just three league defeats all season as his side became the first since Leicester City in 2013-14 to break to league’s 100-point barrier. 

 

All change after relegation

He oversaw a huge overhaul of the squad, as we often see when a team faces relegation after many years in the league above, with first-teamers like Nick Pope, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Nathan Collins, Dwight McNeil, Aaron Lennon, and Maxwel Cornet all leaving.

Kompany didn’t spend over the odds to bring new players in, prioritising promising young players from Belgian sides, Man City, and some lower-league teams. Ian Maatsen of Chelsea and Nathan Tella of Southampton both arrived on loan, too, and made a real impact. 

A year later, and Burnley spent a little bigger. Young goalkeeper James Trafford has arrived from Man City for £15m, while midfielders Sander Berge and Aaron Ramsey have joined from Sheffield United and Aston Villa respectively for a combined £26m. Jordan Beyer, on loan from Borussia Mönchengladbach last season, joined for £13m too. 

 

Burnley are struggling back in the top flight

In pre-season predictions, many pundits and fans tipped Burnley to do well with such a promising young team and manager, assuming fellow promoted teams Sheffield United and Luton Town would struggle more. 

Yet, come the end of November, Luton have confounded the doubters to sit four points clear of the drop, while the Blades have five points in 18th. Burnley are squarely bottom with four points, jointly with Everton, who were deducted ten, but with a far poorer goal difference of minus 22. 

Dyche-ball, while hardly tika-taka, tended to get results. Burnley made it into Europe under his leadership, and his dismissal in April 2022 was criticised by many. He created a sort of siege mentality among his squad. They were the underdogs, but they ground out results. And for some years, it worked.

Kompany’s football, the attacking style that worked so well a division below, doesn’t seem so successful in the Premier League. Maatsen, Tella, and Taylor Harwood-Bellis were so successful in the team last year, but haven’t adequately been replaced. Meanwhile, many of the players he’s brought in as part of the strategy to buy young don’t look as if they’re ready. 

 

Premier League travails

Of course Kompany could change his approach, more successful, established managers than he have had to adapt to suit the situation in front of them, but he seems adamant that his preferred style will help the team see results sooner or later, and keep Burnley up.

But the feeling remains (and the results indicate) that his team is simply too young and too inexperienced to deal with the demands of the Premier League. Even though he’s signed Berge, who has two years of Premier League experience, and 2010s top flight staple Nathan Redmond, Kompany’s team simply does not have the required experience.  

It’s fair to say that new goalkeeper Trafford has struggled at times. He’d only ever played club football at League One level before this season. Meanwhile the team have struggled at left-back with only one senior left-back in the squad, who’d been out of matchday squads for most of the campaign.

Lyle Foster, the South African international forward who signed for the Clarets in January and is their leading scorer, was ruled out this month for mental health reasons, too. Clearly this is not the fault of Kompany, nor anyone’s fault, but it has given the manager another selection headache. 

 

Adapting for survival?

If Burnley go down, as is looking likely, and Kompany is able to keep the crux of the squad together and take them back up again, they may well fare better the second time around. But, will the former Man City captain be afforded that much time? 

Realistically, the club need to put up a better fight to stay in the top division, because one victory and one draw from 13 games is a paltry return. Fans will be divided as to whether Kompany should stick or twist with his tactical approach, but surely some changes – rather than a total overhaul is needed? 

And the team could probably do with some sprucing up in January. Again, not an overhaul, but a couple loanees with plenty of Premier League experience could do Burnley the world of good. Likewise, Kosovo goalkeeper Arijanet Muric, so solid as the Clarets’ first-choice last season, surely deserves a recall to the starting XI. 

Make no mistake, it was always going to be tricky to stay up this season, but Kompany might just manage it. However, the next couple of months will be crucial, and you’d have to imagine either they or Sheffield United will be bottom at Christmas. 

 

 

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