Burnley have been graced with attacking talent in recent years, being home to Charlie Austin, Danny Ings, Andre Gray, and Sam Vokes, with the current crop seeming to be the deadliest in front of goal. Chris Wood came in as a replacement for Gray when he made the £18 million switch to Watford in summer 2017 and has been an improvement over the man who finished top of the Championship scoring charts when Burnley won the league in 2016. Wood’s strike partner Ashley Barnes is Burnley’s highest scorer in the Premier League, mainly due to his participation in their 2014-15 and 2016-17 campaigns before Wood arrived.
Sean Dyche has also brought in three other strikers since the arrival of Chris Wood. Nahki Wells and Matej Vydra both failed to impress in their first seasons in East Lancashire but Jay Rodriguez, a lifelong Clarets fan has returned and seemed to have picked up the baton in pushing the two first-team strikers for their places. Jay-Rod, as he is fondly known by the Burnley fans, has scored 6 goals in all competitions in only a handful of starts and has looked impressive since he re-joined the club.
This argument may not be very relevant for the next Burnley game, Chelsea away, as both options are touch and go due to illness and injury, but it is a very real dilemma for Burnley fans when they are both fit. Should Sean Dyche persist with the out of form Barnes, who has a reliable partnership with Chris Wood, or should Rodriguez start and be given the chance to prove his worth in the starting line-up?
Barnes has been an ever-present goal threat in the Premier League for Burnley, since the way he plays matches up so well with Dyche’s game plan. Barnes is a nuisance. He will get in the face of defenders and bully them to the point where they either foul him, winning the team a free-kick, or he evades them and has a chance to score. When implemented well, this plan allows Barnes and Wood to be incredibly hard for defenders to deal with, especially when they have to think about the attacking threat that both wingers, Dwight McNeil and Johann Berg Gudmundsson, also pose.
Whilst a decent finisher, Barnes does have his drawbacks though. He isn’t necessarily quick, so it is hard for him to beat a man if they mark him correctly, and his passing ability often leaves Burnley fans groaning. This means that if Burnley had a striker that was more mobile, a technically better footballer and still physical enough to execute Dyche’s typical game plan, they would use him… Right?
That is where Jay Rodriguez comes in. When Rodriguez has turned out for Burnley this season, he has immediately made an impact. One example of this is during the Aston Villa defeat on New Year’s Day. Fans were already a little confused at the decision to start Barnes over Rodriguez but, when Barnes was substituted at half time, the impact that a more mobile player could make was clear. Burnley’s general performance was much better. Rodriguez and fellow half time substitute Gudmundsson brought Burnley higher up the pitch and instantly began pinning Aston Villa back in their own half more.
Another incident also highlighted Rodriguez’s importance, but this time it was defensively. Halfway through the second half, Villa attacked down the left-hand side and, realizing that McNeil and Taylor were struggling a little, Rodriguez tracked back and won the ball with a sliding tackle on the touchline, level with the Burnley penalty area, winning the ball and then getting straight up to join the counter-attack. This desire to get back and help defensively when another goal would have killed any comeback that the home side could muster, was something that is rarely seen with Barnes, mainly because he lacks the mobility to track back and then get back up the pitch to join an attack.
Burnley need Jay Rodriguez at the moment. Not only is he in form, but he will bring the entire team up the pitch and allow them to create chances, something that has been hard to come by for Sean Dyche’s men lately. If Dyche fails to start Rodriguez whilst he is fit, he very well might here the naysayers’ voices growing even louder, especially with the chances of high-profile incomings being very slim this January.