Burnley will not be in a hurry to visit The Hawthorns again any time soon. Monday’s 4-0 drubbing, inflicted by a West Bromwich Albion side who had won just one of their previous nine home games, echoed the scoreline of two years ago during the Clarets’ previous top-flight campaign.
The hallmarks of quality normally inherent in Sean Dyche’s side were conspicuous by their absence; Burnley were punished for a lack of concentration, organisation and focus by a side who share those exact traits. By no means are the Baggies the Premier League’s great entertainers, but they were made to look so by an inept performance from the Clarets.
Monday’s game and subsequent result saw the two sides swap halves of the table, with Burnley dropping to 12th and West Brom pinching their ninth-placed berth. There is no great need for wholesale changes, but the defeat offers Dyche food for thought in terms of team selection and personnel for the games ahead.
Beaten at their own game
Burnley enjoyed the majority of possession at the Hawthorns, but saw their 54% share of the ball reap just five efforts on goal, with two on target – and one of those was from a direct free-kick. Quite simply, they lacked the spark to break down an archetypal Tony Pulis defence, forged on hard work and organisation.
Perhaps the Clarets were unaccustomed to having so much of the ball. Playing their 4-2-3-1/4-4-1-1 formation, the trio in the middle of the park – Steven Defour, Dean Marney and Jeff Hendrick – all had a pass completion rate of 85% each. But between them, only two passes were attempted into the area, and both were unsuccessful.
Maybe Burnley had too much time to consider their options when in possession, allowing West Brom to regroup and maintain their position. The usual verve of high intensity play Dyche imbues on his players was elusive, and that allowed the Baggies to settle without being disrupted.
By contrast, West Brom’s transition from front to back was much better, and no goal validates that more than their second. From Chris Brunt’s accurate ball forwards from the edge of his own area, to Salomon Rondon feeding the onrushing James Morrison, to the ball gliding past Tom Heaton in Burnley goal: it took just nine seconds.
Full-backs must watch their backs
Matthew Lowton and Stephen Ward had done little wrong since their respective moves to East Lancashire, but Monday’s performance will have been an interesting watch for their most likely deputies, Tendayi Darikwa and Jon Flanagan.
Lowton played 18 forward passes, but was successful with exactly half of them. The former Aston Villa man also completed just one cross from five attempted, with a couple of efforts sailing way above the untroubled Ben Foster in the West Brom goal. Groans of frustration were audible from the away fans, who also bore witness to a couple of lapses in concentration and communication with goalkeeper Heaton.
On the other flank, Ward was similarly wasteful with his ventures forward, attempted just 10 attacking passes and completing six. Again, just one cross completed from three and one tackle made from four suggests the Republic of Ireland international toiled all evening to little avail.
It would be far too easy, and cynical for that matter, to suggest the two should be immediately relegated to the bench, but the shadow of Manchester City creeping over the horizon certainly presents an interesting dilemma for Dyche to contend with.
Ashley enjoys a Barnes-torming performance
Burnley fans have previously bemoaned the timing of Dyche’s substitutions, with early swaps seldom under the former Watford manager’s reign. However, his half-time introduction of Ashley Barnes was one of the very few positives to emerge from an otherwise difficult encounter.
Although the 26-year-old striker could not enjoy a second successive goal-scoring cameo from the bench, Barnes showed endeavour and a willingness to at least threaten. His hold-up play gave his side another attacking outlet, and he buzzed about strike partner Sam Vokes with an almost playful abandon.
Despite being a man lighter in central midfield as a result – Steven Defour was the man to make way for Barnes - Burnley seemed to fare much better in the second half, partly through West Brom’s deceleration in intensity but also because having two strikers provided an extra forward option for the Clarets when going from defence to attack.
Many may have wondered why Andre Gray was not the first choice to emerge from the bench, but his game is based exclusively on pace and explosiveness. The Baggies may have the oldest average defence in the league at just over 29, but they compensate for their lack of speed by dropping deeper to prevent quicker strikers from making runs in behind.
Quite how Burnley will line-up against City in Saturday’s early kick-off remains to be seen, but given Barnes’ recent displays – and indeed his last performance against Pep Guardiola’s men, in which he got the better of Pablo Zabaleta – it gives Dyche yet another selection issue to contend with.