Burnley had a relatively successful summer transfer window. They managed to re-sign striker Jay Rodriguez in a cut-price deal, brought Premier League winner Danny Drinkwater in on a deadline day loan deal and swooped on out-of-favour veteran Erik Pieters. Pieters was probably the name that stood out the least but naturally it is he who has made the biggest impact on Burnley’s season so far.
The 31-year-old signed from Stoke City as a supposed back-up for the club’s regular left-back, Charlie Taylor, but an injury to Taylor at the start of the season gave Pieters a chance to make his mark. He hasn’t looked back since.
Pieters is a typical Sean Dyche player. What you see is what you get: grit, determination and physicality. There is nothing flashy about the Dutchman but there is an honesty in his game that is endearing to the Burnley fans. Honesty may seem like a camouflaged way of saying that a player is limited but Pieters has certainly made his mark when going forward.
He has already claimed three assists in the league this season which is two more than Taylor managed in the whole of last season. Taylor may be quicker and able to get himself into more positions of danger but Pieters has illustrated that he may be more efficient at picking out a target. That may seem strange given that passing if not necessarily a strength of Pieters but he is well drilled in playing direct balls that are off the ground. A cross is more of a punted kick as opposed to a slide-rule pass; impressive numbers from Pieters nonetheless. He hasn’t been faultless though.
Quite often wide-players have enjoyed a lot of space down his flank with the left-back drifting too far inside the pitch. It means that he won’t be dribbled past and taken out of the game but it has given wingers lots of time and joy to size up the right pass or shot on goal. Frederic Gulibert took advantage of this situation with a well-timed cross for Anwar El Ghazi’s opener for Aston Villa in a 2-2 draw. Pieters then later crossed the ball for Jay Rodriguez to head home the equaliser. This often happens in games. A positive intertwined with a negative.
On the opening day against Southampton, Pieters looked very rusty in the first half and his passing was quite wayward. He stormed into life after the interval with two assists. He was largely excellent in the next two matches against Arsenal and Wolverhampton Wanderers but was sluggish for Alexandre Lacazette’s goal and clumsy in tripping Raul Jimenez for the Wolves penalty. Still, the level of his performances have been largely convincing and that’s why Taylor has been sitting on the bench.
One downside for the £2-million-man is that he hobbled off the field in Burnley’s last match against Everton. He appeared to have ridden off a late challenge from Seamus Coleman but ultimately had to give way for Taylor. It would be an ironic twist of fate for an injury to take Pieters out of the team because it was an injury to Taylor that initially put him there.
Nobody can argue that Pieters has certainly been an upgrade on Stephen Ward. The 34-year-old Irishman was a fantastic servant for Burnley but he was released on a free transfer, ironically replacing Pieters at Stoke. It’s fair to say that the Clarets seem to have taken the better end of the deal. Ward has only started two Championship matches out of eleven; he has lost them both.