The games are coming at us thick and fast, so only three days after the disappointment of another away loss - this time to West Ham - Everton have a chance to make amends as they travel to face Burnley. Frank Lampard’s Blues sit just three points clear of the relegation zone, albeit with games in hand (still) over Watford in 18th spot, but more worryingly are only four points ahead of tonight’s opposition, with both teams having ten matches to play. Defeat at Turf Moor would put the Blues is serious trouble, if they’re not already there. A win and the Toffees can breath just a little easier. Let’s take a look at what the team are up against this evening.
Burnley finished last season in 17th place with 39 points, though they comfortably avoided the drop, in reality; still it was a disappointing slump from tenth spot the previous campaign. In their sixth consecutive year in the top flight under long-serving manager Sean Dyche, the Clarets have struggled throughout, not registering their first league win until the end of October and their second in February. They’ve traditionally been able to put together solid runs of form when in trouble previously, but entering the final months of the season there’s been little sign of a revival to date.
The best the Lancashire outfit have managed is a run of seven matches with just one loss commencing in late January, but even that spell only featured two victories. Coming into tonight’s match, Burnley have lost four league matches on the bounce, shipped ten goals and failed to score themselves.
Style of Play
Dyche is now in his tenth year as Burnley manager and the pattern of play he has for his side is well-established, if not predictable. The gruff-voiced boss deploys in a somewhat traditional 442, usually with a couple of rough, honest old-school strikers, lots of wing play and an emphasis on set-pieces. There is little desire to play through the thirds or to hog the ball (only on three occasions have the team enjoyed a possession advantage). In his players, Dyche values character, physicality and a willingness to engage in the team dynamic. Most are strong, aggressive and not disinclined to leave a bit on an opponent when required, as we saw in the fixture at Goodison Park back in September.
Even on home ground, Burnley sit in a low block and in a narrow shape, making it difficult for the opposition to play through, inviting crosses which their strong central defenders are happy to deal with: the Clarets win the most aerial duels in the league. Defensively, their midfielders and forwards will press diligently when the ball reaches their own half, but staying in shape - two solid banks of four - is emphasized. On attack, the team - for want of a better phrase - are prone to “lump it forward”, attempting a league-leading 72 long passes per match and by some distance the fewest short passes. They have the lowest pass completion percentage in the league, sitting at a woeful 68.5%.
Deprived of captain Ben Mee, the home side will rely on James Tarkowski to marshal their defence. The 29-year old is an unfashionable Premier League defender in an age of ball-playing centre halves, but he suits Burnley’s style perfectly. Though not particularly tall, he is a force aerially, winning 67.7% of challenges and racks up plenty of clearances, tackles and interceptions and is willing to put his body on the line, blocking 50 shots this season.
Giant striker Wout Weghorst was Burnley’s major addition in the January transfer window and given his almost six feet six frame, he’ll be sure to worry an Everton backline deprived of the suspended Michael Keane’s height. However, despite appearances, the big Dutchman is not particularly adept in the air, winning only 36.8% of challenges since arriving in England. What he is good at is dropping deep and linking play, showing the sort of vision and neat touches that would not normally be expected of a player with his physical profile. This doesn’t really fit into Burnley’s style of play however, but he presents a danger all the same.
The Toffees cannot be drawn into playing the Claret’s game and should avoid the temptation to hit it long, instead being better served playing patiently and looking for an opening. The home side will hit a lot of hopeful long passes, so Lampard’s side should look to collect knock downs and not allow Burnley to move up the pitch into good crossing positions. Players should be encouraged to stay on their feet and not give away stupid free kicks. Dyche will look to win corners, so Everton would be wise to keep wingers such as Dwight McNeil penned back on the defensive.
A win tonight would be massive for the visitors, but a draw would be a solid result as it would maintain the Blues’ advantage over Burnley and move the season one game further towards its conclusion. Everton have not actually drawn any matches yet under Lampard and this would be a good place to start.