Burnley have started the season in a very dismal manner, picking up a solitary point and only scoring three times in six games to find themselves stuck to the bottom of the Premier League table.
Dale Stephens arrived at Turf Moor in the delayed 2020 Summer Transfer Window and has provided a degree of depth to Sean Dyche’s squad.
His performances have been scrutinised, more so as he was the only first team arrival through the doors this summer, and Stephens hasn’t really pulled up any trees.
Chelsea performance showed the gaps in his game
Stephens came into the side after Johann Berg Gudmundsson didn’t recover from a calf injury in time for the game against Chelsea.
He came into the centre of midfield with Josh Brownhill being forced wide and, in the 45 minutes he played, the game largely passed him by.
The Blues midfield is one of the best, if it isn’t the best in the League with Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz, Ngolo Kante and Mason Mount all showing their sizeable talent over Stephens and Ashley Westwood.
One problem that was evident in the defeat on Saturday was his lack of mobility.
The young legs of the Chelsea midfield played around Stephens as if he wasn’t there, and it caused a lot of issues for the Burnley defence.
That can’t happen for 90 minutes in the Premier League against any team, let alone one of the title favourites.
And, to Burnley, every team at this stage of the season is above them in the table in terms of points and confidence.
Being the only central midfield cover, Stephens has to come in and provide something different for the team when called upon.
Saturday, he did not do this.
He made them worse.
It was a strange decision to start with Stephens after Brownhill and Westwood had been playing relatively well together in the absence of Jack Cork, especially with Robbie Brady on the bench.
It makes matters worse for Stephens that when he made way at half time for Jay Rodriguez and Dyche changed the system, The Clarets got better.
They started to take the game to Chelsea a bit more rather than sit back and soak up pressure.
The ball was started to be played around with more of a purpose, and that was largely due to not having Stephens to play through in the middle.
Countless times his touch let him down and the ball was lost or he made a negative decision rather than getting his side away from their goal-line.
He does have a lot to offer
Nobody expected him to make too much of a difference and he was signed as back-up for when the midfield needs support.
His experience in the Premier League with Brighton and Hove Albion will play a huge role this season, especially if Burnley stay in trouble at the bottom.
He knows what it will take to get out of the hole, and to get confidence flowing around Turf Moor again.
He is a very good defensive midfielder and could be vital if a change in formation is made.
In a flat midfield two, Stephens doesn’t offer enough to make a difference.
However, as the pivot at the base of a midfield breaking up play, starting play would be the ideal role for him, if he played a progressive style which he could.
He isn’t the same player Burnley wanted four years ago technically, he doesn’t have the mobility and speed to be playing in the midfield two but, being able to sit back, he would not have to rely on movement as much.
His role at the club is that of a back-up, but with Cork being out for the future, he will be called upon as the cover.
Stephens needs to put in some good performances as soon as he can because, when Cork comes back, he will fall down the pecking order in a currently poor team.