Everton’s somewhat soft opening schedule came to a grinding halt last weekend as they travelled to the Etihad to take on Manchester City. A hard-working ninety minutes grabbed a point though, and the Toffees are now off to Turf Moor to take on 14th-placed Burnley. The Blues’ last victory was over a month ago, but they’ll be firm favorites here to get back to winning ways.
The Clarets won the Championship last year while tallying the league’s joint-highest goal total and conceding the fewest goals than all but Middlesbrough. Life in the Premier League has yielded two wins and a draw from eight matches, with a 2-0 home victory against Liverpool the early highlight. For the most part the going has been as tough as one would expect, and while 14th place doesn’t sound terrible their current clip would yield about 33 points on the season, good enough for relegation last year.
Burnley has struggled mightily so far in front of goal, sitting 19th in goals and dead last in both shots and shots on target. Expected goals is no kinder: dead last as well, according to Caley’s model. Defensively their goals tally is slightly better (tied for 12th), but they are still near the bottom in expected goals and have conceded the second-most amount of shots.
What’s likely keeping Burnley from being rooted to the foot of the table at the moment is a bit of luck (oh, and Hull is really bad too). The Clarets boast a shooting percentage and save percentage in the league’s top five and are also outperforming expected goals by a ways. These things tend to not be sustainable unless you are 2015-16 Leicester City, so even if they don’t regress to the mean in the short term, Burnley are riding their luck the longer they play this poorly and expect to not dip into the bottom three.
Back in August, Burnley manager Sean Dyche shared some thoughts on Antonio Conte and foreign managers in general.
Conte came in at Chelsea and he got commended for bringing a hard, fast, new leadership to Chelsea, which involved doing 800m runs, 400m runs and 200m runs.
Come to my training and see Sean Dyche doing that and you'd say, 'dinosaur, a young English dinosaur manager, hasn't got a clue.'
Conte I thought was interesting because if you saw us doing that you'd say we're running them round in circles.
Dyche is right that just because he plays a 4-4-2 or a 4-5-1 doesn’t mean he hasn’t got a clue. The man has had a lot of success, after all. But then you see this, and you sort of lose some sympathy for the point he’s trying to make:
In a minimalistic sense, I really appreciate the beauty of Burnley's passing plot.— 11tegen11 (@11tegen11) August 20, 2016
They just got it forward. pic.twitter.com/9wfO0dn0iY
I’m not saying that Dyche is a dinosaur or incompetent, just that his point that people prefer the style of foreign managers over his just because he is English completely ignores what his style actually is. And, in general, Dyche’s style in the Premier League is to play with two banks of four, sit deep, and look for long balls and counters. I highly doubt that he and Conte are doing the same things in their training sessions.
Anyway, I digress. Sander (@11tegen11) is not wrong in his tweet—there is a kind of beauty to it, especially when it sinks Liverpool. And it can be effective. Arsenal were largely frustrated in their 1-0 victory, and to credit Burnley their shape and passing was better than against Liverpool:
Defour was the central figure for Burnley.— 11tegen11 (@11tegen11) October 2, 2016
Formation played out like a 5-1-3-1.#passmap pic.twitter.com/LglzOPxdGN
Even so, Burnley continue to have key issues in possession, notably in linking Steven Defour, Burnley’s main creative talent, with any of the front three. What will make matters worse for the Clarets this weekend is Defour's absence through injury.
Because they rarely have the ball (second to last possession in the league), and sit so deep in their own zone (last in the league in final third passing ratio), linking the attackers in any sustained way will always be tough for Burnley.
Instead you get a lot of long balls, and a lot of bad shots—they currently have the worst shot quality in the league, where shot quality is expected goals per shot. Against Arsenal they were indulging this tendency even at times when it seemed there were other options:
This tends to happen with teams that are sputtering offensively; it becomes difficult to remain patient and to craft good chances. A quick look at Burnley’s shot chart shows that they are doing a poor job of getting into good positions (Everton’s here for comparison):
If Burnley are to find a way through against Everton, it will likely be through the air. They have a lot of strong players and they aren’t afraid to target them directly in lieu of keeping the ball on the ground. Against Watford at the end of September they secured a 2-0 win on the back of two headers from set pieces, and the following week against Arsenal they were dangerous again:
I wrote previously about how crosses are unreliable in the long term but can be fruitful in short bursts, and it’s worth keeping in mind again with Burnley. They will struggle over the course of the season, but at any given moment Everton’s defenders will have to be mega-aware of the aerial threat.
Everton are itching for three points here and anything less will be a massive disappointment. Unlike last week’s match, this is a game on which they can imprint their style. If they remain wary of the counter, work to prevent crosses and mark the targets of those crosses, and don’t get bitten by lady luck, Everton should win this.
On a side note, this could be a game to work Ross Barkley back into the lineup—Burnley are organized but not aggressive in their pressing, and Ross could find himself with plenty of touches and plenty of space.