At the end of December, Burnley fans were told not to expect anything in terms of January incomings. This was, according to manager Sean Dyche, because of a lack of funds but it didn’t go down particularly well with the Burnley faithful. At that time, Burnley were in a slump in form and it seemed like they needed more creativity, as well as cover for some of their key players.
Contrary to what Dyche said, the Clarets were linked with a number of players during the month and, just before deadline day, Josh Brownhill was brought in from Bristol City with Nahki Wells going the other way.
Even though Brownhill seems to be an exciting prospect, this isn’t enough. Burnley need to strengthen in other departments so that they can avoid the drop next season, and hopefully get back to their 2017-18 form where they secured Europa League football. Here are three key positions that need work in the summer, and some possible players who could be brought in:
The right-back position is one that has been quite strong for Burnley over recent years. Kieran Trippier had the position nailed down during his time at the club and when he left for Tottenham Hotspur in the summer of 2015, Matthew Lowton was more than capable of filling his shoes (with a brief period of swapping with Tendayi Darikwa for his place in the side during the promotion season of 2015-16).
Lowton seemed to have made the position his but the signing of Phil Bardsley in 2017 brought in strength, experience and much needed cover for when Lowton eventually got injured. Lowton has recently seen a decline in the standard of his performances, despite two stellar games against Manchester United and Arsenal in the club’s last two Premier League games and, much like Bardsley, he isn’t getting any younger. This means that a new, youthful right-back is needed at Turf Moor, one who can not only be around in the future, but also can push the two more senior players for their places in the starting line-up. Especially given that Bardsley is out of contract in the summer and it remains to be seen whether the club will extend his stay.
One realistic signing is Jaden Bogle. This might not come as a surprise to Burnley fans as the club have been linked with Bogle for a while but there is a reason for this. Bogle is young, talented and because he is currently a Championship player, can be brought in for a reasonably low fee and could be off the radar of other Premier League sides who are need of a right-back.
Johann Berg Gudmundsson currently occupies the main spot on the right wing for Burnley but due to his poor run of injuries, Jeff Hendrick found himself being played there towards the end of last season and most of this campaign. This has been relatively successful, but it is clear that Gudmundsson is the best player to fit on that side. His ability on the ball is up there with the best in the Burnley squad, and his delivery is just as good.
Burnley do, however, need to bring in another right winger as both Jeff Hendrick and Aaron Lennon are out of contract in the summer. This would leave the club with only one natural right-winger and, whilst the club should make it a priority to tie Hendrick down to a new contract, he should be allowed to play in his natural position in the centre of midfield.
A realistic signing could be Stoke City’s Thibaut Verlinden. At the age of 19 he is already playing in the Championship and seems to have the attributes that Dyche and Burnley require in a winger. He is a hard worker and would continue his development alongside Dwight McNeil who is a similar age whilst learning from seasoned professionals such as Gudmundsson and Robbie Brady, who would be out of contract, but Burnley should look to extend his stay at Turf Moor.
If Verlinden and Bogle arrive at Burnley, that could be the right-hand side sorted for long period of time, with the Clarets able to cash in should the players develop above the level of Burnley, much like we are beginning to see with McNeil.
Chris Wood is without doubt Burnley’s first choice striker but seeing as though Dyche prefers to play with two, he is partnered by both Ashley Barnes and Jay Rodriguez alternately.
Barnes and Wood have struck up a good relationship alongside each other over the last two and a half seasons, but recent months have shown that Barnes isn’t necessarily the answer in the future. His ability on the ball leaves something to be desired and he isn’t going to grab any more than 10 or 11 goals a season.
Rodriguez has come into the Burnley side and made a real difference, grabbing important goals and working hard both defensively and up front with his strike partner and he seems to bring Burnley higher up the pitch when they are on the ball, but he is now 30 years old.
Burnley also have the dilemma that Dyche seems to know which strikers he prefers, and nobody else will be given much game time unless absolutely necessary. This has been shown by the lack of involvement of Nahki Wells, who joined in 2017 and made only nine appearances (all off the bench) before moving to Bristol City this January and more notably, Matej Vydra.
Vydra came in ahead of the 2018/2019 season from Derby and was never really given a run in the side, Dyche preferring to go with five in midfield and a lone Chris Wood instead of starting the Czech international.
Chasing the old guard
Burnley do, however, need to bring in another striker that will bring another dimension to the game, allowing Dyche to more effectively change the tactics to suit the opponents, or to change a game off the bench. Andre Gray could be a relatively good signing as long as Watford don’t ask for the £18 million they paid to bring him in from Burnley, however this might not be viable as Watford will not want to make a big loss on Gray. Another, more viable, option could be Ollie Watkins of Brentford.
Burnley have had a lot of success when signing players from the Championship (a factor that has meant every player in this list is from the English second division) and Watkins seems to be coming from a similar mould as Gray. Aged only 22, he has time on his side and working alongside Wood and Rodriguez will help him to develop, whilst allowing the development with the traits that he already has.
Watkins has the potential to replace the position that was never really filled after losing Gray, but Burnley have to be careful. They must allow Watkins to develop naturally and keep him playing in the position he already occupies otherwise they will be buying him for no particular reason.
Wherever Burnley decide to invest in the summer, it will be the beginning of a rebuild as they have a number of players who are either out of contract, out of favour or simply coming towards the twilight years of their career. A good youth academy and training centre should be a bonus when attracting younger players but the main sticking point, Dyche’s reluctance to change things when needed, has to be changed. Dyche needs to see the summer as a chance to capitalise to on his players’ versatility and ability and not just another opportunity to buy cheap players who “fit the mould.”