The most important player at Burnley is not an obvious choice. There are many players of importance but there isn’t one individual who stands out above the rest. This is exactly how manager Sean Dyche would want it.
Dyche doesn’t want to have a number-one player. His tactics stagnate individual flair and are more centred around selflessness; this comes from running the miles on the pitch and throwing bodies on the line for the collective cause.
A mercurial talent may not flourish as much in this Burnley team because he would have to show a willingness to track back and hold his position in the shape. Likewise, a creative number-ten or secondary-striker wouldn’t really work because Burnley’s direct style would leave them out of the game. It would be a nightmare for Dyche to have be only reliant on one player for achieving victories.
Tactical setup comes first
The rigid 4-4-2 system is the real key. It isn’t the prettiest way of playing but it is effective and it does achieve results. The front two are both big and physical which means they can hold direct balls at the higher end of the pitch. Attacking in this manner minimises the risk of being caught out in transition and potentially conceding on the turnover.
That’s one reason why teams struggle to find the net against Burnley. It means their shape is consistently two blocks of four and those blocks are incredibly tenacious. Their first thought is a selfless thought. There are of course more flamboyant styles of play.
Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth play a loose 4-4-2 which encourages expansive passing football and lots of exciting interplay. It is all about what works best for the management. The Cherries play some scintillating football but are prone to going on spells where they ship a heavy amount of goals. Their style of play leaves them exposed at the back.
Sharing the burden
If a team has a player that they always look towards to produce the magic then there is a flaw within the tactics. Ernesto Valverde of Barcelona is often criticised for a lack of an attacking plan; the Catalan giants too often look to the talisman Lionel Messi for a solution. Similar comparisons could be made with Wilfried Zaha at Crystal Palace.
Individual brilliance is absolutely fine but it cannot be something that the manager is praying for in every single game. Otherwise, the players become more powerful than the manager which puts the club in a difficult situation if that player comes to them with huge wage demands. That will never happen at Burnley. It is a team effort and everybody is replaceable.
Take Dwight McNeil for example. The 19-year-old is a sensational talent and it is very possible that he will be sold in the summer. His talents do seem like they could flourish elsewhere and it would be disrespectful to prevent him from furthering his development.
It would be a shame to lose a homegrown player of his ability but the show must go on and Burnley will most certainly manage. They seamlessly moved on from Charlie Austin, Danny Ings, Michael Keane and Andre Gray so they will do the same with the likes of McNeil and the much admired James Tarkowski. One or two players are never bigger than the whole team.
The most important pieces of the puzzle are already there; a legend of a manager who commands the respect of his players and the love of the club’s supporters. Secondly, a board who are sensible with their finances and will not risk the club’s future by breaking apart their strict wage structure. This creates a squad that is founded on honesty and desire as opposed to ego and greed.
There may come a time when Dyche himself wants to better himself. That would be a big moment. Until then, though, Burnley fans can rejoice in this delightful equilibrium which is comfortably keeping them in the top flight.