With Burnley sitting seventh in the Premier League and boasting the fourth best defensive record in the top-flight, it seems contradictory to pick out an area of their defence as their current weakness. Yet a previously impenetrable back four is now showing frailties in the absence of James Tarkowski.
Unfamiliar performance displayed against Spurs
Tarkowski had been biding his time at Turf Moor before grabbing the opportunity to permanently register his name on the teamsheet when Michael Keane departed in the summer. Since then, Tarkowski has formed an impressive partnership with Ben Mee, with Burnley conceding just 13 goals in their first 18 Premier League games this season and the pair both in the top three for the number of blocks and clearances in the Premier League.
However, Tarkowski has been absent in the last two Clarets' contests as he sees out a three-game ban. In that time, Burnley have been humbled by Tottenham Hotspur and threw away a two-goal advantage against Manchester United.
Against Spurs, Tarkowski's replacement, Kevin Long, had an evening to forget. The Irishman gave away a penalty for a needless foul on Dele Alli in the opening minutes, before failing to cover Mee when Long's defensive partner was caught out of position. Long was then left stranded on his heels as Harry Kane easily passed him for his hat-trick.
Yet the 3-0 scoreline could have been a whole lot worse for the Clarets. Very rarely do you see gaps appear in the Burnley back four but they were opening up throughout the game against Spurs. At 1-0, Nick Pope was forced into a double save from Moussa Sissoko and Son Hyeung-Min blazed over as both players were afforded far too much space.
Positives against United but similar problems arising
The problems were still there against Manchester United on Boxing Day. Marcus Rashford easily found space in the area Kane profited, the left channel between Phil Bardsley and Long, but failed to convert his opportunity. Long also made an excellent block on Zlatan Ibrahimovic but a younger form of the Swede would have netted after he was granted too much room in the first instance. Jesse Lingard was a third player able to walk into acres of space, this time in a more central position, but was expertly thwarted by Pope when he should have scored before grabbing a double.
However, Burnley as a unit should take a number of positives from their performance at Old Trafford despite letting a two-goal lead slip. They played some excellent football, despite not even having a target man as Ashley Barnes often utilised himself as a link player with the midfield. A series of short passes created numerous opportunities and the visitors scored twice and hit the crossbar within the first 35 minutes. Not many teams can boast that statistic against Jose Mourinho's United.
In contrast, they produced just two shots on target from five attempts against Spurs. Although Burnley have been praised for their defensive prowess this season, they should be confident to take the ball forward with their passing capabilities. However, they must also plug that gaping hole appearing between right-back and the right side of central defence. The return of Tarkowski should help fill the gap.