Why Burnley's game against Leicester is their most important of the season and how they can take advantage

Why Burnley's game against Leicester is their most important of the season and how they can take advantage

Burnley could take a giant step towards Europa League qualification with three points on Saturday.

chris-lincoln
Chris Lincoln

Over recent weeks, many of the Premier League scraps have started to filter into a conclusion. Manchester City are virtually champions and the Champions League places look secure for the top four sides. The relegation battle is still wide open but a number of teams have pulled away from trouble in recent fixtures.

However, one critical position is still up for grabs and could produce one of the surprises of the season despite going under the radar.

The gap could extend from six points to nine

A number of fans and pundits had tipped Burnley for relegation but a passionate attitude and organised unit has developed them into a side that have a real possibility of finishing seventh and qualifying for the Europa League.

Unless Southampton win the FA Cup, which looks extremely unlikely, seventh would be enough to reach the qualification rounds of Europe's bridesmaid competition. A win for Burnley on Saturday against Leicester City would grant them a giant step towards reaching those stages.

The Clarets are currently six points above their nearest rivals with six games remaining...those rivals happen to be Leicester. A win for Burnley could put them nine points clear with just five games left, although Everton could narrow the gap to eight if they defeat Swansea City. However, Sam Allardyce's side have played a game more than Burnley.

Yet defeat for the Lancashire side would bring both Leicester and Everton right back into contention.

Four or five in midfield?

The question for Burnley is can they cope with the movement of Leicester's frontline? In Jamie Vardy, the Foxes boast one of the most prolific strikers in England who defenders find challenging to keep quiet.

Too often this season, attackers have been static against a tight and organised Burnley back four. Yet any movement has caused Burnley problems, particularly when either Ben Mee or James Tarkowski have been unavailable in the centre of defence. Deputy Kevin Long has struggled to be as stable and could face problems if he is required to play with Mee still an injury doubt.

The workrate of Shinji Okazaki will also cause problems and require defensive midfielder Jack Cork to be on his toes. Okazaki will drop into spaces between defence and midfield and Cork is likely to be required to keep tabs on one of the hardest working players in the league.

Sean Dyche faces a selection problem ahead of this contest. Burnley have been successful in recent weeks playing 4-4-2. However, the workrate of Okazaki combined with the drifting style of Riyad Mahrez could force Dyche to rethink on Saturday. He may be tempted to plug the midfield with a quintet in an attempt to prevent Okazaki and the rejuvenated Mahrez picking up space between the lines.

Another concern is who will play on the left-wing, tracking back to provide Stephen Ward with support when faced by Mahrez. With Johann Berg Gudmundsson a doubt and Scott Arfield definitely sidelined, Georges-Kevin Nkoudou is likely to start again. A talent going forward, Nkoudou will have to prove his doubters wrong by doing the ugly side of the game and tracking back with Mahrez.

Ashley Barnes will be key

Yet Burnley have similar strengths to their rivals. Like Okazaki, the workrate of Ashley Barnes will cause problems to the opposition defence. Harry Maguire and Wes Morgan are more at home with the physical side of the game but the movement of Barnes will test their mobility.

Maguire likes to play out from the back and start attacks for Leicester. Barnes, supported by Chris Wood, will give the central defender no time on the ball. 

With another deep playmaker, Vincent Iborra, unlikely to be available, defending from the front could pay dividends for Burnley as it has done all season. If the Clarets can squeeze Leicester at the back and prevent the likes of Mahrez and Vardy getting on the ball, chances will be few and far between for the visitors.

With Burnley's front two scoring a quarter of the side's goals over the last season in their last three games, Leicester face a form strikeforce that could score the decisive goals to send Burnley towards the Europa League and consign Leicester to mid-table mediocrity.

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