Sean Dyche is not a man to be concerned by league position in mid-December. In three of the past four seasons Burnley have not recorded more than two league wins before the final month of the year. It was at the Emirates on 13 December last year that they beat Arsenal to collect their second victory of the campaign, in a spell that yielded 11 points from six matches. It is a feat they may need to repeat to avoid returning to the Championship.
Burnley spent four years looking at home in the Premier League but last season they began to tread water, finishing 17th on 39 points, 11 points clear of a dreadful bottom three and scoring only 33 goals. That was their lowest points and goals total since their return to the top flight in 2016 and a sign that things needed to improve.
Within the squad a mental barrier was broken this season when Brentford were defeated for Burnley’s first win at the 10th time of asking in late October, giving the players a mantra that the campaign had started after that match.
They are a resilient side, knowing their strengths and ensuring they play to them, not allowing one another to drop off for the split second that can cost a team such as Burnley, who win or lose by fine margins.
Dyche was angered by Burnley’s first-half performance against West Ham on Sunday but pleased by the response to his half-time criticism, a sign he can still get a positive reaction from his team. Morale remains high within the squad and they believe two positive results in a row would turn their season. They hope that will start at home to their relegation rivals Watford on Wednesday. A trip to Aston Villa follows, before struggling Everton come to Turf Moor, giving Burnley games to target.
“We’ve got a reality to most seasons here” Dyche says. “Not every season – we’ve had some big finishes – but most seasons are a challenge for us. We do know the market we are in, we know how it operates. It’s all well and good knowing that, but you still have to go out and perform … because football doesn’t owe you anything – that’s something I have been talking to the players about.”
Burnley’s continued presence in the Premier League is built on a successful defence. They have conceded 21 times in 15 games, three fewer than Manchester United in fifth, on their way to a lone victory and eight draws that leave them in the relegation zone, two points behind Watford with a game in hand, .
Nick Pope, Matt Lowton, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee and Charlie Taylor provide the foundation for a team to attack but a lack of quality and ambition in the final third is costing Burnley.
“We’ve slowly but surely been getting back to where I think we can be, certainly with clean sheets and being tighter in games and draws,” Dyche said. “We’re well aware we’ve got to make those draws into wins.”
A goal ratio of less than one a game shows where the shortcomings are, and the reason for so many draws. The summer signing Maxwel Cornet is the leading scorer with five in 10 Premier League appearances but has succumbed to two injuries since his arrival from Lyon and without him Burnley have looked blunt, with their usual talisman Chris Wood getting three goals in 16 games. Cornet has provided an individual improvement to the forward line but that has not had a collective impact as others struggle to find the target.
Dyche, asked how he had tried to improve the attack this season, said: “The personnel – with Cornet coming in to add a different flavour to it, to add a different feel to how we play. That’s the plan and he’s certainly done that. We are hoping that opens up avenues to others to score more goals.” Cornet’s influence can only go so far in a squad where Jay Rodriguez has nine league goals in 79 appearances since returning in 2019 and Matej Vydra has seven goals in three and a half seasons at Turf Moor.
Cornet has been a breath of fresh air to Burnley, bringing much-needed confidence to a squad that has lacked investment in recent years, and he is a sign of how the club can profit from wise moves in the market.
January recruitment is in the pipeline but the money available is unknown and if they fail to secure key targets, while clubs such as Newcastle invest, it could leave them further behind.
The Burnley squad have written the history books on Premier League survival so will be confident of finishing above the red line. But December’s run could determine whether they get a seventh successive season in the top flight or they have been left behind.