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Against All the Odds – Burnley’s Fight for a top-half finish

It was a shock of a result. The past four meetings between these sides ended with 0 wins for Burnley, yet here they were, in absolute joy as they had just beaten the reigning Champions. The same fixture last season at Stamford Bridge ended with a 3-0 win to the hosts but this time around, Sean Dyche’s men had done the impossible.

Having spent most of last season completely reliant on their home form, Dyche knew he had to get the best out of this side on the road, and what better way to do that than to claim all three points against Chelsea? The 3-2 victory became the catalyst The Clarets needed to convince themselves they can match the very best on the road.

The next game for Burnley ended in a 1-0 defeat at home to West Bromwich Albion, which made for poor viewing, but since then have gone on a worthy run which has seen them sit 6th in the Premier League, a position many wouldn’t have predicted seeing the difficult fixture list Burnley had been handed.

Burnley’s better performance from last year

After that opening game against The Blues and the subsequent game against West Brom, Burnley have had to face tough opponents, including Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley, Liverpool at Anfield and Everton at Goodison Park. With those three big away games, all ending in defeats last season, this time around Burnley have managed to snatch two draws and a win, a massive five points better than the last campaign.

In fact, out of the 19 away games Dyche’s men played last season, they had won just once, drawn four and lost fourteen. Already that record has been bettered, showing a real improvement and one that could potentially help Burnley get a top-half finish. Would it be too outrageous to think Burnley could be facing the dizzy heights of European football?

Defence keeping Burnley alive

One of the major assets Burnley possess is their defensive prowess. The games at Turf Moor are always a good watch for home fans as they can always rely upon a great backs-to-the-wall performance, having only conceded 19 goals last season at home. This is a good return for a club looking to compete at the higher end of the table and Dyche knows a solid improvement on this form can be profitable.

Already this season, from the seven games played, Burnley have kept three clean sheets, against Everton and Crystal Palace. They’ve also only conceded five goals, making them the third-best defence in the league so far, after both Manchester clubs. With this form, who’s to stop The Clarets from continuing their stint at the top-six?

A lot can be said of Michael Keane’s exit in the summer, a central defender who was a big player for Dyche’s men last season and became an England international due to his impressive performances. Now his departure left a gap in defence. Who would fill that? It’s not only Keane who left the club after a good season, Andre Gray joined fellow Premier League side, Watford, in a move that many thought would leave Burnley with too many gaps to fill.

New signings and new tactics

It’s not so much a new signing that has slotted in place of Keane, it’s more a midfielder that has helped out defensively. Swansea’s Jack Cork made the move which has significantly helped as he had played every minute so far and does his job without complaints. Sean Dyche has made a big change from last season. Now playing with five in midfield, Dyche hasn’t played with two up front much and that has helped his side battle fiercely in midfield, meaning they don’t overturn possession as much. This is where Cork’s presence has a significant effect.

Of course, someone still has to play Keane’s role and it’s 24-year-old James Tarkowski who has plugged this gap in style. Not only did he make jus four starts and 15 substitute appearances last year, he’s now played 90 minutes in each and every game in the league so far, already playing more minutes than last season.

Furthermore, someone who will be very happy with the way they’ve settled in at the new club will be former Leeds United striker, Chris Woods. The 25-year-old made his debut against Tottenham Hotspur, his first ever appearance in England’s top flight and he made his mark on his debut with a last-gasp equaliser. It’s his presence which allows fellow striker Sam Vokes to shine as it’s his movement and ability which helps Vokes play alongside him.

Burnley’s next few games will see them at home against West Ham, who are struggling themselves; an away fixture to Manchester City followed by games against Newcastle and Southampton. If Dyche can come away with at least seven points against those sides, that is the kind of form you’d expect from a club playing for European football. Will Burnley be that side?

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