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Burnley to stay level on potions with the Top 6 clubs?

This time last month I was putting the finishing touches to my article about Burnley, regarding their fight for a top-half finish. They were in 6th place, against all the odds and were about to come across a tough month which would really help determine their status in the league. The last paragraph of Against all the odds – Burnley’s fight for a top-half finish I mentioned how the Clarets’ next four fixtures would be key.

“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.”

One month later, after having played all those games, Burnley have actually done exactly what I claimed would be a great point tally, collecting seven points from those fixtures. Bar the Man City game, the great thing about Sean Dyche’s side is that they have limited the opposition in terms of shots. By keeping two clean sheets, in their 1-0 wins over Newcastle United and Southampton, Burnley’s solitary goals in those games were winners.

As of today, Burnley are now in 7th place, level on points with Arsenal and Liverpool and looking more and more determined to break into the Top 6. This is not only a side capable of taking points off the big teams in England, they’re also one that could be doing the same thing in Europe next season. Burnley are definitely punching above their weight.

What has brought this success?

Looking at the match against Southampton, Burnley restricted their opposition to only managing three shots on target. Remarkably, Dyche’s side only had the one shot on target, which was Sam Vokes’ goal in the 81st minute. Talk about efficiency. Even though the Saints looked better than Burnley throughout the game and had 63% possession, they were unable to penetrate the sturdy Clarets’ defence.

In fact, it took 34 minutes for Southampton to even trouble Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope, who has now kept 5 clean sheets in the last 8 games and the best save percentage in the league with 88.1% of shots saved, more than David De Gea. It’s with his solidness at the back that the four in front of him are able to be confident knowing full well that they can keep a clean sheet together. There were many times during the previous games that the opposition had breached the defence, only to find Pope in the way.

When defending, Dyche’s men opt to play with 8 men behind the ball, in two banks of four, ensuring maximum strength at the back. Winger Gudmundsson actually made a solid slide tackle to thwart an attack, showing just how much Burnley have had to work in order to keep the opposition at bay. There were many attempts by Southampton, and a game in which they should have won but a solid display at the back meant Burnley could nick it in the end.

Dyche has been able to rely on not only Pope but also centre-backs Ben Mee and James Tarkowski who are doing the basics right. Even with the loss of Michael Keane to Everton, the Clarets proved it’s not just the individual which is helping them win points in the league, it’s the collective.

There’s also been a change up front too in Dyche’s tactics as he’s beginning to play two up front in the away games, relying on Ashley Barnes and Sam Vokes to get the goals. With two up top, it’s difficult for opponents to stop the challenges in the box, which results in goals, as Vokes’ header did.

What next for the Clarets?

It’s now going into the part of the season where barring one or two games, Burnley’s next couple of fixtures could see them making the top-half of the table a mainstay. After playing Swansea City at home, the Clarets take on Arsenal, which will be the biggest test of their season. If they can beat the Gunners at home, that would really solidify their status of European contenders. After that game, they have Bournemouth, Leicester City and Watford, games they should be winning.

So once again, one month on, are Burnley going to keep up this incredible run?

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