Everton will look to put Monday’s disappointment at Chelsea behind them when they host Burnley at Goodison Park on Saturday.
The Blues go into this weekend’s round of fixtures in sixth, four points behind Chelsea in fourth having played a game fewer.
And they will want to build on their last Goodison showing, a 1-0 win over Southampton which marked their first home league win since mid-December.
Burnley and Everton drew 1-1 in the reverse fixture earlier that month, and Sean Dyche’s side are currently 15th, four points clear of relegation after four draws and a defeat in their last five games.
Ahead of the game, we spoke to writer, podcaster and Clarets fan Jonny Bentley:
RBM: Firstly, Burnley haven’t lost many lately but they’ve also struggled for wins recently. With four points between them and Fulham in 18th, how confident are you that they will stay up?
Jonny: Fairly confident. The squad is full of experience and they have been in this type of position before.
As ever, the atmosphere is good and the hard-working mentality never seems to go away for too long. Even if one or two performances are sub-par, there is usually some form of response not too far down the line.
RBM: Both Burnley and Everton’s goalkeepers, Nick Pope and Jordan Pickford, are likely to be in the England squad for Euro 2020. Pickford is currently first-choice, but would you drop him for Pope if you were Gareth Southgate?
Jonny: It’s a tough one. Pickford has actually been better than Pope in more recent matches. The Everton stopper has improved a lot since the new year and put in some impressive displays against Liverpool and Chelsea.
Southgate wants a goalkeeper who is comfortable with the ball at his feet. I actually think Pope has improved his distribution and, in his last appearance for England, the Burnley keeper demonstrated his excellent throwing technique. But Pope cannot rival Pickford’s passing range and that makes it difficult for him.
The clamour for Pope came because Pickford was becoming a little too error-prone, and he was becoming a real burden for Carlo Ancelotti earlier in the season. Now, with his upturn in performances, it’s tough to look past Pickford keeping his number one jersey for the Three Lions. After all, he has never let England down.
RBM: Only Sheffield United have scored fewer Premier League goals than Burnley’s 20 this season. Is this down to lack of quality in the strikers, poor service, the way Sean Dyche sets them up, or a combination of all of these?
Jonny: A little bit of everything.
Dyche’s style of play is not designed to create lots of opportunities. The focus is on getting the ball forward quickly, minimising risk, and defending resolutely. Being a striker for Burnley can feel like a thankless task at times.
That said, the goal returns of the forwards are certainly down on what they usually get and that could be down to confidence and fatigue.
RBM: Burnley were taken over by investment firm ALK Capital at the turn of the year, yet it was reported in February that this has left the club £90 million worse off and loaded with debt. Are you still positive about the move, or concerned?
Jonny: The leveraged deal is common practice within American businesses; it limits the risk for the buyer. It might not be how Burnley fans foresaw a takeover happening, but that’s the reality of it.
However, that doesn’t mean to say that it’s a sinister move. Alan Pace has been singing all of the right notes thus far, and his progressive plans for the women’s football team are indicative of a man with a long-term vision for the club.
RBM: How much do you think, longer-term, the takeover will raise expectations of Dyche at Burnley?
Jonny: There will probably be a steady increase in expectancy. I wouldn’t expect anything too quickly.
The new owners decided to buy the club in the middle of a pandemic and that has left all football clubs with a lot less cash to play with. So, Burnley aren’t going to increase their spending drastically for a little while.
RBM: How do you expect Burnley to set up on Saturday?
Jonny: A traditional 4-4-2. Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes have performed well as a partnership so they should continue up top. Erik Pieters will probably come in for Charlie Taylor, who picked up a knock, while Jack Cork could return after his injury against Leicester.
Pope; Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee, Pieters; Gudmundsson, Brownhill, Westwood, McNeil; Vydra, Wood.
RBM: Which areas of the pitch should Everton look to exploit?
Jonny: Burnley struggle against teams that move the ball quickly with purpose.
Everton could cause problems down the left, as Pieters lacks the pace and ‘manoeuvrability’ when reacting to swift turnovers.
RBM: Which of Burnley’s players do you think can cause Everton the most problems?
Jonny: From set-pieces, the likes of James Tarkowski, Ben Mee and Pieters are all physical presences that love to jostle and battle for aerial duels. Pickford has been in good form recently but he is certainly exploitable. Burnley like to whip corners high into the six-yard box and they push all of the big men into the mix to create carnage.
It’s not just Pickford, though. The Everton team do seem to be lacking in gritty warriors and physical presences. A lot of the players seem a little bit soft in that respect. Ironically, Pickford does have that grittiness but he’s just a little small in goalkeeping terms.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s game?
Jonny: 1-0 to Burnley. Everton have struggled against teams towards the bottom end of the table and the Clarets are due a victory.
I’d expect the Toffees to dominate the possession but they might struggle to create openings against a sturdy Burnley back line. At the other end, there are defensive vulnerabilities that Dyche’s men can look to exploit.
Our thanks to Jonny for his time.