Clarets' Midfield Conundrums

03 January 2017 07:42

Determination, endeavour and sheer hard graft will get you a long way; indeed, it got Burnley into the Premier League twice. But those qualities will only get you so far, and to maintain Premier League status something extra is called for.

The challenge for Sean Dyche is to overcome his increasingly obvious reticence to utilise the skills of his “flair” players and harness their talents to his team ethos. Junior Stanislas was an early example, a clever and skilful player, but wilfully inconsistent. 

Take a look at the DVD of Burnley's first promotion season; it is surprising how many telling contributions Stanislas made to that campaign. He was shunted out to rejoin Eddie Howe at Bournemouth, for whom he makes regular top-flight appearances. A talent misused, and one Dyche could still do with perhaps?

Which brings me to Steven Defour. Burnley invested heavily in the player in the summer, he is a player of enterprise and imagination, and possibly the most gifted midfield player seen at Turf Moor since England's Trevor Steven.

Defour is a player of such substance, Dyche could potentially construct the team around him.  But no; Defour’s appearances have thus far been restricted to sixty or seventy minute cameos, interspersed with periods of bench-warming.

By way of supporting evidence, I cite Gray’s hat-trick goal against Sunderland. When Pienaar slipped and presented Defour with the ball at his feet, an instantaneous glance and lofted through ball picked out Ashley Barnes in space amongst a retreating defence. Barnes’ immediate chest control and deft flick on fell perfectly in the path of Andre Gray to apply the finish to a quite sumptuous goal.

My contention is that if the ball been presented to say Dean Marney or Scott Arfield, the likelihood is that they would have spread the ball out to the wing – a perfectly reasonable ball to play, but less likely to result in a goal.

Burnley must embrace Defour; value him, cherish him. He is an artist amidst artisans, in need of a bit of indulgence; his reluctance to track back or rack up George Boyd style statistics for distance covered should be tolerated. Players of his ilk are high-maintenance, but ultimately worth it.

Talk of high-maintenance turns my thoughts to the returning Joey Barton.

Notwithstanding the FA charges over some unwise bets, he has now rejoined Burnley for the rest of the season. This leaves me in two minds; on the one hand, the Joey Barton of last season – the tyro who drove the Clarets to promotion - would be a distinct asset. 

But the doubts always linger that an ill-advised tweet, a red card, an after-curfew late night or a training ground altercation will disrupt the season. Joey Barton inevitably comes with considerable baggage.

It is up to Sean Dyche to square those circles and resolve those conundrums. His record during his time at Turf Moor has earned him the right to the benefit of any doubt. But if Burnley's Premier League status is to be extended beyond this season, his judgement needs to be accurate.

Written by Clarets Mad contributor and Burnley fan David Thornley. 

Source: DSG