Tactical Watch: Burnley

By SFC Media Thu 09 Aug Saints v Burnley
Photo by Nathan Stirk | Getty Images

Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe gives us tactical insight on Southampton's first opponents of the Premier League campaign, Burnley.

Season so far

Burnley started their competitive campaign two weeks earlier than any other Premier League club due to their involvement in the Europa League qualifying rounds. They’ve already got 210 minutes in the bag against Aberdeen, meaning they’ll be feeling fitter and sharper than usual coming into the opening day.

Their fledgling preparations for the new season took a big blow up in Scotland as Nick Pope sustained a shoulder injury that has necessitated the signing of Joe Hart. It’ll be him in for a debut on Sunday, or reserve goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard in for just his third appearance for the club.

How they score

When Burnley attack, there’s a heavy focus on crosses. Central midfielders Ashley Westwood and Jack Cork are actively encouraged to spread the play wide quickly, getting the ball into the feet of a winger or full-back who can tease in a ball.

There’s a nice variety to the type of cross the Clarets can deliver. Through winger Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson they possess a nice whipped, quick delivery from advanced areas, while full-back Matthew Lowton excels at the deeper, Kieran Trippier-esque style ball.

6’3” Chris Wood is often waiting in the middle to head home, with 6’2” Sam Vokes 6’1” and Ashley Barnes other options. From set-pieces, centre-backs James Tarkowski and Ben Mee join them, and when the ball is crossed in after a sustained attack, former Saint Jack Cork has a habit of sneaking into the box and converting.

How they concede

With Burnley, it seems to be a case of live by the cross, die by the cross. They may excel at scoring from them, but they’re also their biggest bugbear going the other way.

All five of the goals they conceded against Arsenal on the final day of last season originated from wide areas, with low crosses particularly effective. It was a familiar sight.

Moving into this campaign, almost all of Aberdeen’s biggest chances came from wide areas, with Lowton and Stephen Ward predictably slow in moving out and blocking the deliveries. The centre-backs drop off very deep, creating little pockets in front of them that attackers can utilise.

Out of possession

Burnley employ a healthy mix of high-pressure and low-block defending.

After losing the ball there’s an initial spurt of energy in an attempt to recover it, led by the voracious Jeff Hendrick from the number ten spot, but if it evades them for too long, they’re happy to drop back into a deeper block.

This is where Sean Dyche’s famed “framework” comes into play: any attacking player he signs must also be willing to do the tactical, positional and defensive work required. They must slot into an off-the-ball 4-4-1-1 shape, remove space between the lines and track runners back.

It can make them rather obstinate, frustrating opponents.

Watch out for: James Tarkowski

This time last summer, fans were speculating how on earth - given the lack of signings Burnley had made - Dyche was going to fill the Michael Keane-shaped hole in his defensive line. Step forward, Tarkowski.

A stellar campaign ended with suggestions he should be honoured in the Team of the Year, and it seems the only reason he didn’t go to Russia for the World Cup with England was because he required a hernia operation.

He stands out most for his propensity to make heroic blocks in dangerous areas, bravely putting his body on the line, but he’s quite the passer too. Fifty-yard slingshots out to the wings aren’t uncommon, and he can shimmy round a marker Harry Maguire-style too.

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