Analysis: Burnley missing dominant presence in goal

The Clarets shipped four against Fulham on Sunday, taking their tally of goals conceded to ten in their three games over the past week.

With just 39 goals conceded in 38 Premier League games last season, Burnley's defence was undoubtedly a major reason behind a successful campaign that propelled them into Europe.

Yet the 'European Tour' dream could be coming to an abrupt end as they lost their fourth qualifying round first leg by a 3-1 scoreline against Olympiacos. Added to seven league goals conceded in their last two top-flight matches, against sides expected to finish in the bottom half of the table, Burnley fans are already taking to social media to discuss their fears of potential relegation.

Bigger gloves to fill than anticipated

When the Clarets signed Joe Hart as cover in goal for Nick Pope, who picked up an injury in the first competitive game of the season, the consensus was that Burnley almost had too many options with Tom Heaton and Anders Lindegaard also capable goalkeepers.

However, the signing of Hart has allowed Sean Dyche to be flexible with his starting number one, selecting Hart in all three league games thus far but offering Heaton an opportunity against Olympiacos. Yet there is no question that the new man is Dyche's favoured option ahead of the club captain, playing five of Burnley's last six matches since joining. 

So, why are Burnley conceding so many goals in the absence of Pope when they have two such established shot-stoppers at their disposal?

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Lack of presence in the air

It appears that neither goalkeeper, particularly Hart, can offer the same physical presence as Pope. Last season saw the 26-year old take 57 high claims from crosses and long balls during 36 matches, at least 15 more than any other goalkeeper in the league. In comparison, Hart has taken just five in his last 22 matches since the start of the 2017-18 campaign. His four last season were less than almost every other goalkeeper in the top-flight.

Such an issue was in evidence on Sunday against Fulham. For all of Aleksandar Mitrovic's impressive strength and hold-up play that caused problems for defenders James Tarkowski and Ben Mee, he only won two headers throughout the entire contest - scoring with them both.

The central defensive partnership barely missed anything last season but when they did, Pope was on hand to clear up the danger within an impressive combination between the three. However, Hart was caught in no man's land twice at the weekend when Mitrovic converted both of his headers within ten yards of Hart's goal. The experienced shot-stopper opted to take a couple of tentative steps off his line on each occasion when he should have been more dominant and got his hands on the ball with the danger so close to goal. 

On that evidence, it perhaps comes as no surprise that the Serb now has four goals in his last three appearances against Hart, with over a quarter of his Premier League strikes coming against the former England goalkeeper.

A developing issue

Dominating the penalty area has become a growing issue for Hart, perhaps masked, and caused, by a series of high-profile errors in recent years. Dropping out of favour with Manchester City, West Ham and England has undoubtedly had an impact on Hart's confidence, causing him to hesitate more often than not when dealing with crosses played into the penalty area - something that he never used to have an issue with.

However, Hart's number of claims has dropped quite significantly during each season for the past decade. The issue for a club like Burnley, who rely on the combined support of the team to produce results, is that more pressure will now be placed on the back four to deal with the significant number of balls that will always come into their penalty area due to the defensive and compact way they play.