Everton need to get back to winning ways on Saturday when they travel to struggling Burnley.
After last weekend’s defeat to Leeds, the Blues have lost four of their last five games, and face Chelsea, Leicester, Arsenal and Manchester United in succession after this trip to the Clarets.
Burnley were thrashed 5-0 at Manchester City last weekend and sit 19th in the table, with just one win and five points from their first nine games.
Sean Dyche’s men are also the joint-lowest scorers in the league, with only four goals this term.
Prior to Saturday’s game, we spoke to sports journalist and Clarets supporter Jonny Bentley:
RBM: Firstly, how surprised have you been by Burnley’s start to the season?
Jonny: A little. The form at the end of 2019-20 was excellent. Everything was good. Unfortunately, that momentum disappeared with the break between the two seasons and it just hasn’t been the same.
That is partly down to the break, partly down to a pile-up of injuries and partly down to a lack of investment in the transfer window.
RBM: With just four goals from nine league games, is Burnley’s main problem not creating chances, or not taking them?
Jonny: A bit of both. I noted that there was a lack of conviction in creating chances. Burnley won the ball in high areas against Brighton [0-0] and Tottenham [0-1] but they were unable to create good chances from those moments.
Players looked scared to play a killer pass or make a penetrative run. It was a fear of missing a chance or giving possession away.
RBM: Though they kept all of their key players, Dale Stephens was Burnley’s only notable summer signing, costing £1 million from Brighton. Has the financial toll of the COVID-19 pandemic hit them particularly hard, or is lack of investment catching up with them?
Jonny: The lack of investment seems to be related to a potential takeover deal. [Chairman] Mike Garlick would have wanted the club to look as financially healthy as it could possibly be, hence he invested virtually nothing over the summer. He is pushing for a takeover because the club are outgrowing him.
Garlick took charge of a mid-table Championship club and worked hard to balance the books when Burnley were in a poor financial condition. The chairman, worth £62 million, cannot transition with the club because he is not wealthy enough; they have moved very quickly in such a short space of time.
So, you’re right. Burnley are struggling because of their lack of investment. Sean Dyche will hope that new ownership will come with a bigger cheque book.
RBM: Despite eight hugely successful years at Burnley, should Sean Dyche be under any pressure at the moment?
Jonny: Definitely not. I am very grateful that Burnley fans, on the whole, show unshakeable support for their manager. It is a mindset that is not shared across the board.
People seem to forget that Burnley have been in positions of adversity before. They climb out of those bad situations by keeping calm and working hard. It’s not rocket science. This squad is packed full of experienced professionals with bags of character.
Such mental attributes make a big difference. The worst thing to do now would be to rock the boat.
RBM: What do you think Dyche needs to change to steer Burnley clear of trouble?
Jonny: Changing a formula that has proved to be successful over the past five years is somewhat dangerous. Dyche’s football can be quite boring to watch, at times, but it yields the necessary results to stay in the division. The manager doesn’t pander to idealistic football; he panders to necessary football.
Sometimes, such football leaves Burnley looking tactically inept and really up against it. However, the merits are there for all to see. Just like Roy Hodgson, Sam Allardyce, Steve Bruce and others, a more pragmatic style that focuses on defensive resolve is a method of playing with proven success.
RBM: With still three-quarters of the season left, how confident are you currently that Burnley will stay up?
Jonny: Still confident. Sheffield United look like they’re in big trouble. Their performances haven’t been bad but their squad lacks the experience and know-how to turn their poor form around.
Fulham and West Brom have improved their performances but the challenges that are facing the newly promoted clubs are very fierce. They are probably more fierce than ever before as a result of the pandemic.
Newcastle have also rode their luck massive over the course of this campaign. They are picking up points in an unsustainable way. Crystal Palace are also struggling for form.
Now is not the time to panic. Those who panic and choke are those who go down.
RBM: How do you expect Burnley to set up on Saturday?
Jonny: Nick Pope and Josh Brownhill look set to return after minor injuries. Johann Berg Gudmundsson is having his minutes carefully managed, but he got a full rest at the Etihad Stadium. I would expect him to get another rest in Burnley’s following match against Arsenal. Phil Bardsley is close to a return but Matt Lowton has been fairly competent in his absence.
(4-4-2) Pope; Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee, Taylor; Gudmundsson, Brownhill, Westwood, McNeil; Rodriguez, Wood.
RBM: Which of Burnley’s players do you think can cause Everton the most problems?
Jonny: This season, Dwight McNeil has struggled to find his rhythm but he could find some joy down the left if Everton go with a back three.
His wicked deliveries into the box could also cause concern for Jordan Pickford and the two, or three, central defenders.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s game?
Jonny: 1-1. Seamus Coleman and Lucas Digne are huge losses. Their runs from deep unlock the creative wizardry of James Rodriguez. His partnership with Digne has been particularly fruitful in the past few months.
However, Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been in remarkable form and he doesn’t need a second invitation. Even in their depleted state, Everton will feel confident about finding the net at Turf Moor but, equally, the Clarets will have their eyes on a questionable defence and goalkeeper.
Our thanks to Jonny for his time.