Everton will try to bounce back from Sunday’s horror show against Tottenham Hotspur when they visit Burnley on Boxing Day.
Both sides go into this fixture out of form; the hosts have just one league win in their last 11 games, and Everton have managed only a single victory from their previous seven.
The Clarets enjoyed a magnificent 2017/18, finishing seventh, beating the Blues home and away in the process.
But after a premature exit from the Europa League, Sean Dyche’s side have struggled badly this season, and will spend Christmas in the relegation zone.
Ahead of Boxing Day’s game, we spoke to Natalie Bromley (Twitter), Burnley fan and editor of the No Nay Never podcast, about her side’s campaign so far and what she expects from the match:
RBM: After their best season in the Premier League last campaign, finishing seventh, Burnley are facing a relegation battle this year. What do you put the Clarets’ struggles down to?
Natalie: These aren’t struggles for just this season. These are the struggles that every team outside of the top seven faces every single year. Last season was an anomaly - we weren’t expected to finish in seventh and we realistically won’t do it again in this current Premier League setup - and the “natural” position of Burnley in the Premier League is probably between 13th - 17th depending on the season.
Look at Leicester. They won the Premier League but expectations aren’t that they should be finishing in the top four every year and anything less is a season of ‘struggle’. It is accepted that their title season was an exception and Burnley’s finish last season should be viewed in the same way.
So, once you look at the campaign with that level of realism, it becomes less of a season about struggling and more of a season about realistic expectations. With our squad and our budget, each season will be about survival.
RBM: How far has Burnley’s season so far differed from the campaign you expected them to have? Were you anticipating another top 10 finish, or even a challenge for the Europa League places again?
Natalie: We certainly aren’t defending as well as I know we can, but other than that it’s going exactly as I expected it would. We were never expecting top ten in any shape or form.
Sean Dyche was clear in pre-season that the expectations should be 17th at a minimum and he knew that the narrative about Burnley all season would be ‘they’re not pushing for seventh… they’re having a disappointing season.’ He warned against it and it’s frustrating to hear it week after week. The aim is to get to safety, then see how high we can finish.
RBM: Has it now got to the stage where you would class simply surviving as a successful season for Burnley?
Natalie: It has been at that stage since last season ended and it will be the same next season (assuming we survive). This perhaps sounds alien to Everton fans, but life and Premier League outlooks are very different outside of the top seven.
I have covered this quite a bit above, but survival is always a success. Look at some of the teams who have gone down in recent years, and Southampton’s continued struggles. No-one is safe.
RBM: Sean Dyche seems incredibly popular among Burnley fans. Is it still far too early to start questioning his future?
Natalie: Perhaps, albeit I don’t subscribe to the ‘Dyche is God, should never be questioned and should have a job for life’ club. He hasn’t himself had a good campaign either and there is frustration among some pockets of fans.
That said, he absolutely has earned the right to fight to get us out of this and is probably the best manager to get us back up if we do go down. I guess my frustration is some stubbornness with tactics; we were ‘found out’ in the last couple of months of last season.
People didn’t report on it as the story (rightly) was that we finished seventh which is incredible. But we started this season using the same game plan and teams have found a way to win against it comfortably. I am looking for fresh tactics and they don’t seem to exist. That said, he can only play with what he’s got.
RBM: With encouraging performances in recent defeats to Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, and the 1-0 win over Brighton & Hove Albion, are Burnley beginning to show signs that they are on the right track again?
Natalie: Unquestionably. The back-to-back losses against poor Crystal Palace and Newcastle teams was a big low point, but seems to have been the kick they needed. It’s a shame we had to then go on a run of Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal, just as we got our mojo back.
RBM: Former Burnley defender Michael Keane had a dreadful first year at Everton and was given a torrid time on his return to Turf Moor last season, but he has been excellent this season.
Despite his improvement, do you expect Burnley to target Keane again just as they did last season, given Dyche will know Keane’s strengths and weaknesses better than most?
Natalie: Yes, I saw. I really feared for him at the end of last season and wondered whether you would get rid. But he’s a great lad, a fantastic player and one Burnley fans have a lot of love for.
I am delighted he’s back to the Keano we sold and would like to see him win his England place back next. After he has a shocker on Boxing Day…
In order to do that, we have to start that rarely-seen strategy of a shot on goal. All joking aside, we are playing even more defensively this year than we did last year, so any goals will come from breaks. I don’t think he will target Keane particularly, although Ashley Barnes will welcome another good old battle with his pal.
RBM: It is almost a year since Everton sold winger Aaron Lennon to Burnley, a player who was well-liked at Goodison Park but often proved inconsistent on the pitch. How would you rate Lennon’s time at Burnley so far?
Natalie: Hugely popular at Turf Moor but one who is proving inconsistent on the pitch!
RBM: How do you expect Burnley to set up?
Natalie: Twelve months ago I could have told you exactly the players and the formation we would play. This year, it changes game by game and the tinkering is relentless (which isn’t helping results, in my opinion).
I will be surprised to see the five-man defence he tried for Spurs and Arsenal, but only as we are at home. It also depends largely on personnel as we have Robbie Brady, Lennon and Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson all out injured. 9-1-0 perhaps?
RBM: Who do you think could cause Everton the most problems?
Natalie: Ashley Barnes. God bless that man.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Wednesday’s game?
Natalie: 1-0 Burnley. Got to back your own.
Our thanks to Natalie for her time.