As the strains of Auld Lang Syne faded at the turn of this calendar year, the Clarets were ensconced in fifth place in the Championship, dawdling between genuine title contenders and play-off hopefuls. They had already lost five league games – the same amount they had lost across the entirety of their previous promotion campaign – and lacked the consistency of Championship title winners.
On Boxing Day last year, manager Sean Dyche threw down the gauntlet to his side following their 3-0 mauling at the hands of Hull City. He challenged their ambition, what they desired, where they wanted to be at the end of the season. The players, led chiefly by club captain Tom Heaton and the outspoken Joey Barton, were unanimous in their response. They wanted to win the league.
The unbeaten streak
In any sport, at any level, to perform to a standard that renders you seemingly unbeatable to your competitors is admirable in the extreme. It emanates an aura of invincibility and fearsomeness, and therefore the expectation levels correlate to the heightened standard of performances.
In individual sports such as tennis, the responsibility lies on you to extract the best out of yourself. In football, as a manager, you have to extract the best out of the 11 starting players, the seven substitutes and the variable quantity of squad members beyond that.
That could not, will not and did not lose mentality, coupled with a group of players buying into the same principles, underpins Burnley’s almost miraculous surge to the Championship title last season. The Clarets did not lose for 23 games – exactly half of a second tier campaign – and refused to entertain the prospect of failure.
Their run was made all the more impressive considering their stature in the Championship. Fresh from relegation with their landing softened by parachute payments, Burnley could attract – and afford, moreover – the likes of Barton and Andre Gray. Such personnel came with additional pressure: the Clarets were earmarked as promotion candidates from the beginning of the season.
But they grew into their tag as favourites and, by the time 2016 had begun, were thriving in it. Rather than hampering them psychologically, it boosted them. Late equalisers against fellow title contenders Middlesbrough and Brighton and Hove Albion underlined just how much Burnley revelled in their resolute mentality; as time wore on, a levelling goal always seemed inevitable.
The recruitment drive
Mistakes are acceptable to make, providing they are used for future improvement and not repeated. On the previous two occasion Burnley have prepared for a Premier League season, their parsimony had bemused supporters, with the intricacies of TV deals leaving no hiding place. Promotion means pounds.
But rather than last summer merely being a case of third time lucky, there seems to have been a real diligence to how Burnley have operated. Dyche has secured more good signings than bad ones during his Turf Moor reign, which bodes well considering the finer margins which exist in the top flight.
It is hard to argue that in the current market beset with inflated prices, Burnley have taken great lengths in securing value for money. Iceland winger Johann Berg Gudmundsson looks a shrewd signing at £3.5m, while Belgian midfielder Steven Defour can be also be filed under the same category. Jeff Hendrick’s £10m fee rankled slightly, but even the Republic of Ireland international is beginning to look every inch a Premier League player.
That trio of signings have undoubtedly strengthened a compact, talented squad, while previous signings at Premier League level have flattered to deceive. The difference in quality between the 2014/15 season and the current Claret crop is almost tangible, such is the gap.
The changes in the squad since the beginning of the year are far from wholesale, but they have been significant. Such an approach to recruitment suggests Burnley will be able to secure players who can have a similar impact.
The home form
The backbone for any successful side consists of several factors, not least a strong home record to build upon. Playing in the same surroundings every two week breeds familiarity and, psychologically, having the majority of the support in your favour can provide an extra impetus during tough periods.
During the 23 game unbeaten run, Burnley swept aside most of the teams that came to the claret corner of East Lancashire, and even those that stood firm often weathered enduring storms. Their theme of dominance at home has extended into this campaign, with Dyche’s men sourcing great comfort in playing in front of a raucous crowd.
The opening day defeat to Swansea City aside, Burnley have lost to the sides that many expected them to (Arsenal and Manchester City), beaten a couple who they were tipped to struggle against (Liverpool and Everton) and seen off teams around them in the table.
Just like that undefeated streak, the boundaries are mental. Burnley perform so well at home that there is an expectancy for them to do so for each game and, just like in the Championship, a form of siege mentality is established. While others patiently wait for them to falter at home, the Clarets roll on, picking up narrow wins and grinding out important results.
Burnley’s solid home form provides the remedy to their wretched away record, which has seen them pick up just one point on the road since promotion. For every win at home, an extra bit of time is afforded to Dyche to formulate a sustainable way of playing on their travels.
One suspects figuring out an approach for away games is high on the manager’s list of New Year’s Resolutions but, ultimately, there is only one general rule of thumb Dyche need adhere to to keep the Burnley bandwagon rolling on: more of the same.