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Premier League Team Preview: Burnley

All 20 Premier League clubs are being previewed ahead of the 2019/20 season. This instalment discusses Burnley, who are set to enter their fourth consecutive season in England’s top flight.

  • 2018/19 Finish: 15th
  • Signings so far: Erik Pieters (£1m), Jay Rodriguez (£5m)
  • Possible Gameweek 1 lineup (4-4-2): Pope, Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee, Taylor, Gudmundsson, Cork, Westwood, McNeil, Barnes, Wood
  • First six fixtures: Southampton (H), Arsenal (A), Wolves (A), Liverpool (H), Brighton (A), Norwich (H)

Following a 5-1 Boxing Day home loss to Everton, Burnley were three points adrift at the halfway stage of the season. In the aftermath of that game, manager Sean Dyche spoke about returning to the basic principles that had seen his side finish seventh in the 2017/18 campaign. A run of eight wins in the next 15 matches propelled the club clear of danger and they ultimately secured survival following their next match – a 2-2 draw with Chelsea.

Burnley’s upturn in form coincided with Tom Heaton replacing Joe Hart in goal, as the Clarets put together three wins on the spin, over West Ham, Huddersfield and Fulham. The goalkeeper switch arguably proved to be one of the most crucial factors in Burnley’s road survival as the rate of saves increased from two out of every three shots (66.4%) to three out of every four (75.9%).

This was not a result of Hart having a particularly terrible save percentage and season in general. Indeed, seven goalkeepers had a worse record out of players who played over 1000 minutes. But it was the fact that Heaton was so impressive, only ranking behind Lloris (77.7%) and Alisson (79.2%) in this category across the season.

It is worth noting that the defence also improved following the change of goalkeeper as Burnley’s xGC dropped from 35.3 in the first half of the season to 27.4 from Gameweek 20-38. Therefore whilst Heaton was impressive, Burnley improved defensively in all areas, indicative of Dyche’s ‘back to basics’ mantra post-Everton.

Whether Heaton can keep out the fit again Nick Pope is another issue. It would be a tad harsh to leave Heaton out of the opening game against Southampton after such an excellent spell in goal following over a year without a Premier League appearance.

However, Pope did achieve an even better save percentage of 77.0% in 2017/18, only behind David De Gea (82.1%) and he was duly rewarded with a call-up to England’s 2018 World Cup squad. This resulted in an xG prevented of 10.40 in his 34 starts, far ahead of Heaton (0.40) and Hart, who conceded nearly six more goals than expected. Those differences do have to be taken with a pinch of salt to some extent, given that Hart and Heaton started 15 games fewer than Pope.

Nonetheless, the data suggests that a fully fit Pope provides Burnley’s best option in goal, especially as he was given a new four-year contract in May. However, there is a chance that Heaton keeps the shirt until an opportunity arises for for Pope, through impressing in training or Heaton losing form or picking up an injury.

Such is the regularity that Burnley concede shots that whichever goalkeeper starts the season will be a prime candidate for topping the save charts. Lukasz Fabianski topped that metric with 148 in 2018/19, but when using Hart (77) and Heaton’s (63) data in combination, the Burnley goalkeeper would have ranked second for saves, with just eight fewer than the Pole across the whole season.

One of the other post-Christmas bright sparks was the emergence of academy graduate Dwight McNeil, who appeared in all of Burnley’s final 20 league matches as a left winger. He will need to continue in the vein that saw him contribute seven direct goal involvements in 21 appearances to fend off competition for his starting place. Burnley have a plethora of options in wide areas, in the form of Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Aaron Lennon and Robbie Brady, with Jeff Hendrick and Jay Rodriguez also comfortable there too.

Back for a second spell at the club, Rodriguez will also challenge Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood in attack, who like Heaton and McNeil were vital in Burnley’s revival in this calendar year. When looking at how the two strikers performed in the second half of the season, it is plausible to make the case that Barnes is the more heavily involved in front of goal, whilst Wood is more selective and accurate when taking shots.

There are a couple of reasons for making this assumption. Both players scored nine goals from Gameweek 20-38 – only Sadio Mane (15), Sergio Aguero (13), Jamie Vardy (12), Mohamed Salah and Ayoze Perez (both 10) managed more. However, Barnes had 11 more goal attempts, 12 more shots on target, five more big chances, eight more penalty box touches and an xG 4.22 higher than Wood over this 19 game period.

Wood is thus arguably a better finisher than Barnes, especially as he has a 30 goal season to his name at Leeds as recently as 2016/17. But even taking this discrepancy into account, Barnes’ involvement in the second half of last season was crazily high for a player in a mid-table side.

But from an FPL perspective, there are two factors limiting Barnes’ appeal as being the standout £6.5m forward. Fixtures against Arsenal and Liverpool during August are hardly ideal when the likes of Deulofeu and Calvert-Lewin face no top six opponents in that period and King opens up against two of the promoted clubs. In addition, sustaining such data and being more clinical in front of goal provide challenges that need to be overcome. Therefore for those shopping in the £6.5m forward market, it is a toss up between trusting 19 gameweeks of data vs trickier fixtures and the possibility of regression.

To summarise, Burnley’s 2018/19 season can be split into two halves: an injury-ridden, Europa League influenced, somewhat experimental first half which left them in the relegation zone, followed by Dyche’s ‘back to basics’ revival which resulted in a 15th place finish. Carrying those principles into 2019/20 is vital for a squad that has again not drastically changed its personnel and that will be competing for a lofty position with most sides outside of the top six.

Using the data from an FPL perspective, Pope and Barnes appear to be the best options at the club and offer excellent value compared to other options in their respective price brackets. However, a degree of caution should be used here, given that Heaton could keep his place and Barnes may struggle to maintain his involvement in a mid-table side.

Nevertheless, Burnley will certainly be an interesting team to monitor in 2019/20, based on both the nature of their squad and the extent to which their second half of the season performance can be sustained.

Stats from Transfermarkt and Fantasy Football Scout

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