Analysis: Burton shock not all bad news as Burnley welcome back Steven Defour
Defour makes his return at Burton (photo: Twitter/Burnley FC)

After returning to European football, albeit briefly, for the first time in over 50 years and enjoying trips to the likes of Istanbul and Athens, Burnley's Carabao Cup encounter with Burton Albion was somewhat low-key in comparison. If anything, it was a fixture that Sean Dyche's small squad did not need after a challenging start to the campaign.

Yet the contest provided a crucial moment in their 2018-19 campaign as it offered the return to first team football for Steven Defour.

Pass master

Until their 4-0 drubbing of Bournemouth at the weekend, Burnley went eleven matches in all competitions without a victory in 90 minutes during a busy start to the season. Gaping holes in defence and a lack of cutting edge in front of goal were partly behind their demise but they have also been short of an influence in the middle of the pitch, too often dominated in that area by the opposition.

So Clarets fans would have been delighted to welcome back Defour as he returned from a lengthy injury that has kept him sidelined since January. The Belgian was successful with 83.8% of his passes last season, better than the likes of Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas, Kevin De Bruyne, Christian Eriksen, Sadio Mane, Riyad Mahrez, Dele Alli and Mo Salah

Unsurprisingly, he topped the charts in the Burnley squad, making more passes per game than any of his teammates.

Embed from Getty Images

First line of defence

Yet Defour was also a key figure defensively, a part of his game that often goes under the radar. Many of the plaudits for Burnley's extraordinary season went to the central defensive duo of James Tarkowski and Ben Mee, backed up by a breakthrough season for goalkeeper Nick Pope.

However, a lot of pressure was relieved for that trio by the combination of Defour and Jack Cork in midfield - it is unsurprising that Burnley have conceded over a quarter of the goals they let in during the whole campaign last season, compared to six league games without Defour this year.

Burnley kept eight clean sheets in 25 matches involving Defour last year and the work of the Belgian in the middle of the pitch cannot be ignored. He averaged 1.9 interceptions per game, finishing in the top 20 of the league for that statistic, manufacturing more turnovers than the likes of Idrissa Gueye, Nemanja Matic, Eric Dier, Fernandinho, Jordan Henderson and Granit Xhaka.

Defour got through 74 minutes at Burton with the score tied at 1-1 when he was replaced by Jeff Hendrick. Burton may have scored just nine minutes later to stun the Premier League side but Defour's rehabilitation will no doubt prove crucial in the long-term for Burnley's challenging current campaign.