How Have Burnley Defied The Oddsmakers?
Now sitting top of the table, today Tim Poole takes a look at how Burnley have defied pre-season expectations that saw the club priced at 81.00 to win The Championship and 5.50 for relegation.
How quickly things change in football.
You could have got odds of 5.50 for Burnley to be relegated from the Championship during pre-season. Nineteen games into the campaign, though, and Sean Dyche’s side can be backed at 8.00 to win the division outright.
An unbeaten run at home, combined with a tally of just two league defeats all season and a winning streak that reached eight games in all competitions at one point, have all seen Burnley lead the division four months into the league season. Despite possessing a meagre transfer budget – and a small squad – Dyche’s side have not stopped in their tracks and are already strong favourites for promotion; you can get a price of 3.00 for the Clarets to go up.
But how have Burnley done it? And how have they kept ahead of bigger, better-financed clubs like QPR, Leicester, Nottingham Forest and Reading in the pecking order?
To start with, you have to look at the manager.
Nicknamed the ‘Ginger Mourinho’, Burnley boss Dyche is steadily making a name for himself as a skilled man manager.
"Even as a player, I wanted to chat about tactics and look at things more deeply," he said on Sky’s Footballers' Football Show in November.
"It starts with the cultural environment. You set that in a positive tone, with good information and good support for the players. You then try to use all the tools to get the best out of people."
The Clarets’ turnaround in fortunes has, by and large, been down to Dyche. When the 42-year-old came in at Turf Moor – he was released by Watford despite masterminding their highest league finish in four years – Burnley were a lowly 14th in the Championship.
His impact was immediate, as he proved tactically astute and well versed defensively. Nevertheless, his biggest selling point remains his approach to people management.
"Sometimes you call it horse whispering," he continued on the Footballers’ Football Show. "You just walk past someone on the training ground and say 'fantastic, well done.'
"You go beyond the physical side of the game and the technical, you look at the people and say 'how are you feeling, are you ready?'"
That philosophy has brought the best out of key players throughout Burnley’s campaign so far. And none more so than the Clarets’ front men.
In Danny Ings and Sam Vokes, Burnley have two of the Championship’s six top scorers. With 11 and 10 goals to their name respectively, Dyche’s main marksmen have certainly made an impression this term. Ings, in particular, has impressed so much that he has earned a call up to the England Under-21 squad, while Burnley’s run to the Capital One Cup fourth round saw the forward net a further four times.
Vokes, meanwhile, has taken his chance to break into the starting XI brilliantly after the departure of Charlie Austin to QPR in the summer. If there was any doubt surrounding the 24-year-old’s first-team place at Turf Moor last season, Dyche has been persuaded otherwise by the striker’s form this term.
And the pair are not afraid to help their team-mates out, either, registering three assists each so far this season.
With age on their side, there is no reason their terrific form should waver. Injury remains the only big risk for a strike duo that is terrorising Championship defences nationwide but, as Dyche has alluded to recently, the Clarets will look to recruit a backup forward in January.
Yet if Burnley’s ability in front of goal is frightening enough, it is a similar success story at the other end of the pitch.
Thirty goals have been scored by Dyche’s side in 19 league games but just 13 conceded, making the Clarets’ defensive record second only to QPR’s. That record has helped them achieve the healthiest goal difference in the division, which could prove key come the end of the season – especially considering it is what is keeping them in top spot right now.
Credit for the transition must again go to their 42-year-old manager, who last season inherited a team that leaked 29 goals in just 13 matches before his arrival.
Key to Burnley’s disciplined defending have been ever-presents Kieran Trippier, Jason Shackell and Tom Heaton. Full-back Trippier has also contributed offensively, making five assists, while goalkeeper Heaton has kept an imperious nine clean sheets.
A look at Burnley’s formbooks gives a clue about another major factor in their surge to the top of the Championship: Dyche’s side have not lost at home.
Indeed, Burnley’s only two defeats this season have come on their travels and, put simply, they have turned Turf Moor into a fortress. Important wins have already come against Reading and QPR at their home ground, each time swinging momentum in their favour at key points during the season.
Seven of the Clarets’ clean sheets, meanwhile, have been earned at Turf Moor. Most recently, home comforts were crucial in Burnley returning to the summit of the table, as they ended a run of five games without a win (they drew four of them) against Barnsley.
That victory, of course, has come at a welcome time for Dyche’s men, with a crucial visit to Leicester awaiting them on Saturday.
Burnley would no doubt prefer to be hosting the Foxes but the chance to extend their lead at the top of the table – even if just for a few hours – should serve as motivation enough.
Despite Derby’s recent rise to prominence under Steve McClaren, a ‘big three’ seems to have formed in the Championship, with Burnley, QPR and Leicester leading the way. A win for Dyche’s men on Saturday, though, would take them four points above third-placed Leicester and provide some much-welcome breathing space in the weeks to come.
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