After an embarrassing exit from the FA Cup at the hands of lowly Oldham Athletic, our attentions turn back to Premier League life. Next up for the Whites is a trip to Turf Moor, and as ever our man George Singer is here to give you the lowdown on what to expect.
Let’s not beat around the bush – losing to a League 2 side at home is pretty humiliating. However, in a period full of many downs, it’s our ability to quickly bounce back which will define our season. A strong and speedy reaction is paramount, as our next matchup is as crucial as they get: a true 6-pointer crunch match against fellow strugglers Burnley. With daylight starting to form between us and 17th place, getting the 3 points will be crucial if we want to have realistic hopes of spending a second season in the top flight.
August 2018 Fulham 4 – 2 Burnley
March 2016 Fulham 2 – 3 Burnley
November 2015 Burnley 3 – 1 Fulham
February 2010 Fulham 3 – 0 Burnley
December 2009 Burnley 1 – 1 Fulham
Likely Burnley lineup
In their most recent League game, a crucial 2-1 victory at Huddersfield, Burnley lined up as they have across most of the season: in a simple 4-4-2. Seeing as Burnley have now won 3 games in a row, it’s likely Dyche will look to stick with a winning formula and keep personnel consistent. The only potential doubt for the game could be Phil Bardsley, however the right back is expected to be back in full fitness for Saturday’s showdown. Aaron Lennon continues to be a long term absentee for the Clarets, although Dwight McNeil has impressed in the speedster’s absence.
After a standout season last year, with an unexpected 7th place finish bringing a short European tour, many expected Burnley to consolidate and morph into a solid mid-table Premier League side. So what’s happened to the Clarets this year? Why have Burnley fallen from grace into the jaws of a relegation fight?
Their defence is the main contributor to this. Once an impenetrable barrier, it’s now one of the leakiest in the country: no side has conceded more xG than Burnley over the season. In addition to this, other defensive numbers have fallen this year. Burnley averaged the most the most blocked shots last season (6.1 per game – a ridiculously high figure!), which has reduced to 5 this season. The two stats together suggest that the side are struggling to defend with the same rigour as last season, and their league position is suffering due to this.
One to watch
With the Clarets in strong recent form, there are a few players who are in good form leading up to Saturday. However, the man I’m looking out for is the big Kiwi Chris Wood – who has scored in each of the Claret’s last 3 games.
Burnley offer a very direct style of football – which suits their big strikers Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes. The Clarets will look to drive the ball forward in attack quickly, and get the ball into the box to generate chances for their strikers. In recent weeks, they’ve looked to do this through direct dribbling, as well as longer balls for their target men to hold up.
As you’d expect with a big side like Burnley, they thrive on balls into the box. Expect them to complete lots of crosses, with both driven low balls and looping balls being aimed at the strike pair. They also have quality set piece takers, which also allows them to bring big Centre Backs like Tarkowski into the attack too – who is the side’s joint second top scorer with 3 goals.
Notes for Claudio
This game has all the makings of a really scrappy encounter. Both sides like to employ direct, counter attacking football, and both will be desperate for the 3 points. I’m not expecting to see much free flowing football, but instead a titanic wrestling match between two combative sides.
My notes for Claudio this week are:
- Continue with the back three. Since moving to the 3-at-the-back system, we’ve finally found some defensive stability. In fact, it was only when we switched to the back 4 mid-game against Arsenal when we collapsed and conceded 4 goals. By picking 3 strong centre backs, this should help provide the cover we need to shackle both Wood and Barnes
- Play wingers who are comfortable tracking back to defend. Starting the game with someone like Schurrle (over AK47) will help provide some extra cover in the wider areas. If we leave wide cover just to our wingbacks, Burnley will double up and use the overlap to generate crossing opportunities for Chris Wood
- Don’t pair Cairney and Seri together in midfield. It just doesn’t work! With both players trying to do the same job, they can trip over each other – which happened to a lesser extent with Cairney and Norwood last year. Of the two, despite being captain, Cairney has put in some really poor defensive performances lately, and will have to fight harder if he wants to get back on the team sheet. The Chambers & Seri pairing has proved it has the bite and defensive stability for key games, so I’d like to see Ranieri bring this back up at Turf Moor.
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