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Everton at Burnley: The Opposition View

We spoke to sports journalist and Burnley fan Jonny Bentley before Saturday’s game at Turf Moor

Burnley FC v Everton FC - Premier League
Everton won this fixture 5-1 on Boxing Day last season
Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images

Everton travel to Turf Moor for a crucial game against Burnley on Saturday, hoping to end a dreadful run of three consecutive Premier League losses.

The Blues have been stuck on seven points since before the international break, but after lamentable showings in defeat to Bournemouth and Sheffield United, they at least delivered an improved performance at home to Manchester City on Saturday, despite going down 3-1 to the champions.

Burnley are currently two points better off than Everton, and after a 2-2 draw at Aston Villa on Saturday, are unbeaten in their last three matches, sitting in 11th.

Aside from defeat to Liverpool, Sean Dyche’s side have also won their other two home league games so far this season without conceding.

Prior to Saturday’s game, we spoke to sports journalist and Clarets supporter Jonny Bentley:

RBM: Firstly, how would you assess Burnley’s start to the season?

Jonny: It has been a solid start to the season and a far cry from the turbulent opening to 2018-19 campaign. Aside from the disappointing 3-0 slump to Liverpool, the Clarets have been in every game that they’ve played in.

Their only other defeat was a closely-fought affair with Arsenal. Dyche builds teams to be organised and disciplined, which can make them difficult for opponents to deal with.

Aston Villa v Burnley FC - Premier League
Burnley’s solid start to 2019-20 continued with a 2-2 draw at Aston Villa on Saturday
Photo by Mick Walker - CameraSport via Getty Images

RBM: After flirting with relegation last campaign, would you be happy with a more uneventful year for Burnley this time around?

Jonny: Absolutely. Football has become a financial game and the importance of remaining in the top tier has never been higher. The money goes far beyond simply being able to buy players for big money, it can galvanise a football club.

Norwich City have just been promoted from the Championship but spent very little on incoming transfers. Instead, they used the money to pay off debts, reinforce their training facilities and make sure that they will be financially stable for the future. So, yes, every season in the Premier League is vital for a club like Burnley.

Let’s not forget that the Clarets have flirted with bankruptcy once or twice in their long history. Nobody wants to be in that position again.

RBM: Having already led Burnley to Europe and consolidated their place in the top-flight, do you feel Sean Dyche can still take Burnley further?

Jonny: Very good question. The Burnley board seem to be content with survival every year. That is reflected in the money that is spent on players, the wages of the players and the lack of a desire to look at more expensive players when the prospect of European football came calling.

There is nothing wrong with this. Many people would trade places with Burnley right now. But, with relation to Dyche, there probably will come a time where he questions whether he has done as much as he can. At the same time, a counter-question Dyche may ask himself would be whether the grass is always greener.

The prospect of another Premier League club may be tempting, but with that temptation comes some potential consequences. Other clubs may demand a more attractive style of football. Other clubs may have dressing rooms with bigger egos to manage. Dyche is also the highest-paid member of staff, reinforcing the club’s commitment to him and his management. Still, ambition can lead people out of contented places.

Aston Villa v Burnley FC - Premier League
Dyche has been in charge at Burnley since October 2012
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

RBM: Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes already have seven goals between them. What is it about the pair that you think makes their strike partnership so dangerous?

Jonny: I think it helps that they understand the system they are a part of. This isn’t Norwich or AFC Bournemouth, where the strikers are usually presented with a host of opportunities. Burnley are a defensively-minded team first and foremost. Barnes and Wood know that and realise that they have to work hard to get their opportunities.

They have to use their physicality and be prepared to throw themselves onto the end of crosses. Essentially, they are honest, hard-working players. They don’t sulk if they have to chase lost causes or percentage balls; Dyche seeks players with the right attitude and these two strikers certainly have that.

RBM: Michael Keane returns to Burnley on Saturday. In his time at Everton, he has seemed quite dependent on who his central defensive partner is; with Kurt Zouma, he thrived, with Yerry Mina this year or Ashley Williams previously, less so.

Was this the case with him during his spell at Turf Moor, too?

Jonny: It was. Ben Mee, the long-serving defender, has often been the centre-back who leads. He has taken James Tarkowski under his wing, and the former Brentford man has since been involved with the England national team.

Tarkowski and Keane both possess better technical qualities than Mee, but it is Mee who has a more sensible defensive head. His partners benefit from his defensive positioning and risk-free style of play.

So, yes, Keane does benefit from being next to an assertive defender. It allows him to be more free when coming out with the ball but also means he is more focused when it comes to the defensive side of the game.

AFC Bournemouth v Everton FC - Premier League
Michael Keane’s form has waxed and waned since leaving Burnley for Everton in July 2017
Photo by Matthew Impey/Offside/Offside via Getty Images

RBM: How do you expect Burnley to set up on Saturday?

Jonny: I’d expect an unchanged eleven, injuries permitted - Pope; Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee, Pieters; Hendrick, Cork, Westwood, McNeil; Wood, Barnes. Jay Rodriguez made an impact when he came off the bench, scoring the first of two equalisers, but whether Dyche sees him as a wide-forward still remains to be seen.

If Jack Cork is injured, then Jeff Hendrick should move into central midfield; it would then be a battle between Rodriguez and the returning Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson for the right-midfield spot.

RBM: Which of Burnley’s players do you think can cause Everton the most problems?

Jonny: Barnes will always hassle any defence so he is the obvious choice. Wood now has three goals in his last two matches so he will be fancying his chances against a team that has conceded two or more in their last five league matches.

Keane and Mina will want to show more resilience but Jordan Pickford will also have a point to prove after a few questionable performances.

Wood and Barnes are sure to threaten Everton on Saturday
Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images

RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s game?

Jonny: I was actually quite impressed with Everton against Manchester City. They were sloppy at the back but their intensity was good and they created a lot of chances. There was much more impetus about their play in that match than there was in the defeat to Sheffield United.

Burnley were sluggish in the first half against Aston Villa but improved a lot after the break. In the end, a draw was probably a fair result.

Still, this is a tough match for Everton. Burnley aren’t a team that will be as open as some of the opponents that they’ve faced. Nonetheless, this is a big game for Marco Silva because it is a match he really could do with winning as some fans are losing their patience. Score Prediction: 2-2.

Our thanks to Jonny for his time.