The Blues will realistically need to beat the Clarets to have any chance of finishing seventh and potentially qualifying for next season’s Europa League, after falling four points behind Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday.
After a dreadful first half of the season, which ended with a 5-1 home drubbing to Everton on Boxing Day, Sean Dyche’s side have picked up 28 points in the 17 games since, a feat only bettered by Liverpool and both Manchester clubs.
Their place in next season’s Premier League was confirmed on Saturday, following Cardiff City’s defeat at Fulham.
Ahead of Friday’s game, we spoke to Matt Moss, Burnley fan and producer of the No Nay Never podcast, about his side’s campaign so far and what he expects from the match:
RBM: Firstly, how would you assess Burnley’s season overall?
Matt: It has quite literally been a season of two halves for Burnley. 12 points from the first 19 games followed by 28 points from the next 17 games (top 6 form incidentally). We hit rock bottom against your men on Boxing Day and Dyche made a couple of key personnel changes bringing Tom Heaton back in and giving Dwight McNeil a chance and we’ve not looked back since!
RBM: Everton are outsiders to finish seventh and possibly achieve European football, as Burnley did last year.
In hindsight, do you feel that Burnley entering the Europa League as early as late July derailed their Premier League campaign?
Matt: In hindsight, yes, it was a very disrupted and early start to our season. There were a number of factors involved: injuries to Heaton just before the first Europa League match followed swiftly by a serious injury to Nick Pope in the first half of that game meant we had to go and buy another keeper in the shape of Joe Hart who divided opinion for the first half of the season and hasn’t really been missed since Heaton’s return.
We wouldn’t be surprised to see Hart move on in the summer. Dyche also seemed to struggle with juggling the EL games with the PL games when the season kicked off meaning we didn’t have that settled team ethos that has brought us much of our success over the last few years.
RBM: Burnley seemed to turn the corner after the 5-1 defeat to Everton on Boxing Day, when they looked deep in relegation trouble.
What are the main differences between the Clarets in the first half of the season and the second?
Matt: As I mentioned above, making a couple of changes to the starting XI seemed to have a big impact. Dyche talks a lot about there being a re-alignment in that period after Boxing Day, with the team just getting back to what they do best. We seem to be a team of runs, we are usually either on a good or bad run, so once we got a couple of wins under our belt against West Ham United and Huddersfield Town it gave us the momentum to kick on and start to get ourselves out of trouble.
RBM: Where do you think Burnley need to strengthen most in the summer transfer window?
Matt: That all really depends on if anyone departs. We could certainly do with 1 or 2 more wide men and central midfielders. The tricky bit is competing with fees, wages and convincing players to come to a team that probably rotates it’s starting 11 the least in the division. Dyche believes in consistency and sticking with a team, particularly if things are going well. Summer signings Ben Gibson & Matej Vydra have found that out the hard way and we wouldn’t be surprised if Vydra moves on in the summer in search of regular football. We’re certainly not holding our breath or expecting a plethora of big name signings!
RBM: Burnley were seen by some as employing negative tactics in Sunday’s 1-0 defeat to Manchester City, managing two shots all game, neither of which were on target.
Despite the obvious gulf in quality, were you disappointed that, with survival already secured, they did not have more a go at City?
Matt: Not really, as Dyche points out, we could never match them at their game and we knew that they were coming to us looking for all 3 points to put them back ahead of your neighbours. The worry was that with safety guaranteed by Cardiff’s defeat on Saturday the boys would be on the beach so it was heartening to see that they played with the same discipline and effort that they had shown in the previous 4 games that had seen us climb to safety. It was really only later that evening that the realisation dawned that we hadn’t really tested Ederson or even managed to get a corner.
We are used to spending the vast majority of the games against the top 6 defending wave after wave and looking to snatch a goal from the odd attack we manage to carve out. We were so close to getting a point (29mm to be exact) and the crowd were proud of the display we put on. When City ended the game with 4 centre backs on the pitch and holding the ball in the corner of the pitch then you’ve got to ask who really had the negative tactics?
RBM: How similar a game plan do you expect Sean Dyche to opt for at Goodison on Friday?
Matt: Given the kind of performances that you have managed to produce recently against top 6 teams, I expect Dyche to employ very similar tactics to those he has used in the last 2 games against City and Chelsea. We aren’t desperate for the points, so he won’t want to risk opening us up by going for the win. He’ll probably use the same starting XI and try to stay in the game for as long as possible. A lot of our goals recently have come from set pieces, so we’ll look to utilise that again.
RBM: Who do you think could cause Everton the most problems?
Matt: Our biggest threats at the minute are Ashley Barnes who’ll be a thorn in your CBs side, front and back all game. The link up play he’s had with Chris Wood has gone off the boil a bit recently, but if they do get back on the same wavelength then they can cause problems. We also have McNeil who had a quiet game against City, but if he is on form he can run riot down our left wing and get balls into the box.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Friday’s game?
Matt: Tough one to call, depends on which Everton turn up! I’ll go for a 1-1 draw.
Our thanks to Matt for his time.