Is Burnley's five-year stay in the EPL at risk?
With nine league games remaining, Burnley FC are still staring down the barrel of a relegation dogfight in the English Premier League (EPL). Sean Dyche’s men have defied the odds and expectations to cement themselves at the top table of English football for five seasons now, but there is concern that the Clarets may be running out of steam with the 2020/21 finish line in sight.
Wide-ranging studies into the issue of fixture congestion in the EPL have discovered that player synchronisation “might reduce”. Meanwhile it also said that a blend of “fatigue” and minimal time to work on team “shape” during congested periods of fixtures will make a coach’s life “even harder” this season. It’s something that Dyche has already alluded to, admitting that his side looked jaded after failing to overcome ten-man West Bromwich Albion.
Dyche was quick to support his players and acknowledge the fact that they are having very little downtime in between matches. He insists that while professional footballers are well-paid for what they do, everyone “needs a break from their work lives” every so often. Will the fixture schedule be the stumbling block for the Clarets and give their new American owners a major headache by falling into the Championship?
Injury list starting to thin out
There is no doubt that Burnley have been severely impacted by the fixture congestion, which has caused multiple soft tissue muscle injuries to many of their first team regulars. The likes of Jack Cork, Ashley Barnes and Charlie Taylor have all been forced onto the treatment table due to thigh problems, while Icelandic international Johann Berg Gudmundsson is also out of action having “felt something” during a light training session.
Burnley have by no means the biggest squad in the EPL by any stretch of the imagination. According to the official Premier League site, Burnley have 29 senior players in their squad. When you consider that teams like Chelsea have as many as 29 players out on loan across the globe, it puts into perspective the physical and mental strain that’s being placed on these smaller squads.
Surprise win at Everton gives Clarets breathing space
Few pundits gave Burnley a chance of taking one point let alone all three points from their recent trip to Goodison Park. Everton may have been inconsistent at home this season, but they still harbour aspirations to clinch a top-four finish under boss Carlo Ancelotti. The Clarets have hardly set the world alight in the final third either. Chris Wood is the club’s leading scorer with six goals to his name. Therefore, it was a huge shock to see them take a two-goal lead inside the opening 24 minutes against the Toffees, including a fine solo effort from England U21 international Dwight McNeil.
Although Everton halved the deficit before the interval through Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Ancelotti’s men huffed and puffed but failed to blow the Burnley house down as Dyche’s men clung on for a morale-boosting win. Despite tired legs, Dyche praised his side’s “defensive shape” despite the “tricky opposition”.
Remaining fixtures offer multiple opportunities to reach the magic 40-point mark
A cursory glance at Burnley’s remaining fixtures in the 2020/21 EPL season suggests that Dyche’s men should have more than a few chances to get the seven points they need to reach the 40-point mark that’s usually enough to guarantee Premier League safety. They have upcoming clashes with Southampton and Newcastle, two sides that are in equally indifferent form, which could yield more than a point or two. They also face an out-of-sorts Wolves, relegation-threatened Fulham and a managerless Sheffield United on the final day of the season. The latter is surely one of the best final day fixtures a team could ask for if they were seeking a result to secure survival.
It’s fair to say that Burnley might just get away with there being three worse teams than them in this year’s EPL. It will be fascinating to see whether Dyche receives significant funds to invest and add to his squad from the club’s new American owners in the close season.