Burnley may be without a win during 90 minutes in all nine of their matches this season but they should go into their upcoming contest with Manchester United full of confidence, particularly after an impressive display on Thursday evening against Olympiacos.
The Clarets only drew in a fixture they needed to win but created numerous opportunities against a side that have won 19 league titles since 1996 and reached the last 16 of the Champions League on three occasions in the last decade. It is the spirit, tempo and confidence they showed in this game that the need to replicate on Sunday afternoon…
No 'respect, respect, respect'
Despite winning on the opening day of the season against a club that won the Premier League just three seasons ago, Jose Mourinho is plausibly under more pressure than any other manager in the top-flight.
Substantial cracks are appearing with various outbursts to the media and questionable tactics arguably deployed to underpin his controversial pre and post-match statements. Following criticism for being too negative against Brighton, Mourinho responded by setting his team on the offensive against Tottenham, an ill-considered move that resulted in a humbling 3-0 defeat but allowed the Poruguese to defend his tactics to the media.
Following that contest, Mourinho erupted in front of the press demanding ‘respect’…that is exactly what Burnley should not do at Turf Moor.
Don't let a nervy defence settle
United’s central defenders have been visibly affected by negative comments to the media by their manager, conceding three goals in successive contests for the first time under Mourinho.
Following the defeat against Brighton, Victor Lindelof was dropped to the bench and Eric Bailly removed from the squad completely – when the former replaced the injured Phil Jones, he looked completely out of depth with a series of mistakes, undoubtedly expressing a lack of confidence.
One from those two are likely to join Chris Smalling at the heart of the back four on Sunday and the Burnley strikers should be rubbing their hands at the prospect.
They showed against Olympiacos that they are more than capable of putting defences under pressure with an attacking mindset. Sam Vokes missed two golden opportunities from headers before hitting the post, Ashley Barnes rolled an effort inches wide, Matej Vydra blazed over when unmarked and Dwight McNeil saw an excellent strike parried away – Burnely could easily have scored four or five on another day.
Direct approach to target Lindelof or Bailly
Whether Sean Dyche opts to play with one or two strikers remains to be seen but a physical presence in Vokes or Chris Wood should definitely start. Whilst Smalling won six aerial duels against Spurs, Lindelof averages just 2.3 and Bailly only two – Vokes or Wood will be looking to play up against one of these two with an average of 4.7 and 3.7 aerial wins respectively.
Set-pieces will be key for the hosts, who have scored two of their three league goals from such positions and meet a side that have conceded just as many from similar positions in their opening three matches, but Burnley should also look to allow their flair players to conduct proceedings with freedom.
Smalling was left treading water against Lucas Moura on Monday evening, particularly for the third goal when the Brazilian simply skipped away from him. With Johann Berg Gudmundsson injured, the selection of 18-year old Dwight McNeil would be a bold replacement but the teenager showed he was not fazed by big match pressure as he impressed with pace and trickery against the Greeks.
Cork will be key to the success of transitions
Key to all of this will be the speed of Burnley during transition phases and Jack Cork will be the main cog in the engine for this element of the contest.
Cork will need to get the ball forward quickly and directly to put a nervy United defence under pressure. He has the best pass percentage for his club with 86.9% and has the ability to hit the target man or a wide player with his range of passing.
However, the defensive midfielder will also need to provide protection for the back four. Burnley were chasing a result on Thursday evening whilst Cork was rested but were often left exposed on the counter-attack.
United may be struggling for form but Burnley will still need to be wary of the threat posed by the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba.