How Sean Dyche made Burnley contenders for Europe

Burnley’s impressive start to the campaign is this season’s ‘Cinderella’ story but the stereotype of the Lancashire club led by a gruff ‘old-school’ manager disguises the very effective method behind their rise.

How Sean Dyche made Burnley contenders for Europe

Although they were fourth before last night’s Premier League matches, a return to European football for the Clarets, who featured as English champions in the European Cup in 1961 and reached the quarter-finals of the Fairs Cup, the forerunner of the modern-day Europa League, in 1967, is probably in the realms of dreamland.

But the league table does not lie and the numbers tell the story of a team that is certainly achieving well above any reasonable expectations.

A solid defence has been the foundation of Dyche’s team throughout his five years at Turf Moor and Burnley have conceded just 12 goals from 17 games this season.

In two-and-a-half seasons with Dyche in the top flight, Burnley have picked up 27 Premier League victories, 15 of them have been 1-0, a total of 55%.

Indeed, taking into account Championship wins, a total 33 of Dyche’s 92 league victories with Burnley have been by that scoreline.

“Brian Clough used to love a 1-0 and he was a genius and everything. He used to tell the players. Clean sheet, score a goal,” said Dyche, who began his playing career under Clough at Nottingham Forest.

“I love them 1-0s, absolutely love them. Every manager does,” he added.

The last two wins, both by that scoreline, over Watford and Stoke, reveal another aspect of Dyche’s success — improving players and getting the very best out of relatively limited resources.

Watford were beaten by a goal from Scott Arfield, a midfielder picked up on a free transfer in 2013 from then Championship side Huddersfield Town.

The 89th minute winner against Stoke came from Ashley Barnes, signed for the modest fee of around £750,000 (€851,306) from Brighton nearly four years ago.

Burnley aren’t quite a team of a bargain basement signings though — centre-forward Chris Wood cost £15m (€17m) when bought from Leeds United earlier this season and midfielders Jack Cork, and Ireland duo Robbie Brady (currently sidelined) and Jeff Hendrick were all bought for fees between £10m (€11.3m) and 15m (€17m).

Robbie Brady celebraets scoring earlier this season.
Robbie Brady celebraets scoring earlier this season.

But, along with excellent organisation, Dyche’s ability to improve talent has been the key to the rise of his team.

Indeed during his time at the club, three players have won England caps while playing for the Clarets — goalkeeper Tom Heaton, defender Michael Keane (now with Everton) and midfielder Cork. Reports suggest England manager Gareth Southgate is currently keeping close tabs on centre-halves Ben Mee and James Tarkowski, too.

Such a record suggests Dyche and his coaching staff, which includes former Nottingham Forest winger Ian Woan, are able to focus on areas of improvement for individuals as well as incorporate them into an effective team structure.

Burnley’s style of play is often described as ‘direct’ with credit given purely for their defensive organisation and while that is a fair description of their successful battle against relegation last season, it fails to do credit to their improvement this campaign.

A greater emphasis on possession and passing and movement was evident even in pre-season games, helped by the arrival of the talented but often under-valued Cork from Swansea.

Cork has formed a valuable central midfield partnership with Belgian Steven Defour who, after struggling initially to cope with the Dyche mantra of “maximum effort is the minimum demand”, has also become an essential part of the team’s success.

The pair have ensured that Burnley are able to control games with possession much more effectively than they did in previous Premier League efforts. Dyche described the style as “mixed football” and sees nothing wrong with a pragmatic approach to tactics, saying he is bemused that is considered a negative.

While some obsess over possession and passing statistics and playing the game, the supposed ‘right way’, Dyche knows what counts the most.

”I don’t believe fans see a team consistently and go ‘at least we’re losing the right way, I‘m really enjoying this’.

“It’s a strange myth. Playing the right way is only good when you’re winning,” he said.

Dyche applies plenty of modern methods in his coaching but his core thinking is traditional.

“The two things that will never go out of fashion, the desire to win will never become non-trendy, and the achievement of winning and working hard,” he said.

“If that’s your minimum, and you build on that — which is what we’re trying to do — that’s a good start point.”


Bridging the numbers gap

£33m (€37.4m): Burnley’s wage bill for the 2016/2017 campaign. Arsenal’s was at some £234m (€265.6m), with Manchester United the highest at £264m (€300m).

20,136: Burnley’s average home attendance from nine Premier League matches at Turf Moor. In comparison, Chelsea’s figures are 41,499 from eight fixtures while West Ham have averaged 56,954 at the London Stadium.

£14.76m (€16.75m): Burnley broke the club record transfer fee to bring in forward Chris Wood from Leeds, while Manchester City paid £51.75m (€58.75m) for Monaco left-back Benjamin Mendy.

£30.64m (€34.77m): The amount Burnley spent during the summer transfer window. Tottenham, meanwhile, spent £61.4m (€69.6m) — while selling Kyle Walker, who moved to City in a £45m (€51m) deal.

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