Burnley were a sensation last season. Sean Dyche’s side defied expectation and analytics to finish 7th in the Premier League, historically booking themselves a place in the Europa League.
Just a few months later, though, Burnley’s European adventure ended before it really started, and the Premier League table already looks ugly. The Clarets have just one point from five league matches and have lost four straight after being beaten 1-0 by Wolves on Sunday afternoon. The football is not massively to different to last season, the results, however, are.
Burnley were fortunate last season. It was, much like Leicester’s famous title-winning campaign, a year where everything fell their way. That’s not to demean the achievement of Dyche and his players but does make this difficult start far less surprising. Part of what made Burnley’s achievement so remarkable was how improbable it was, and how improbable it remained even when they were winning so frequently.
In an admittedly small sample this season, Burnley are giving up more shots per match than any other Premier League team. Only Fulham, after a drubbing at the hands of Manchester City, have a higher non-penalty expected goals against than Burnley (per understat).
While, yes, this must all be qualified as a small sample, this is still an area of concern. The Clarets overachieved their numbers last season, but they were still 11th in NPxGA rather than 20th.
Offensively, things are far from perfect. Burnley, according to WhoScored, have had just over 10 shots per match this term. That number was only 9.9 last season. It was part of the mystery that Burnley managed to achieve what they did last season while only scoring 36 league goals. The trouble is, this season they are conceding at closer to the expected rate.
Managing to concede a tonne of shots and not actually let a goal in was almost wizardry from Burnley last season and, to a lesser extent, the season before. While Dyche’s side have been unlucky to not have more than one point so far, the signs are concerning at both ends of the pitch. Burnley, unless they find a way to return to their freaky defending of last season, have to start creating chances at a much-improved rate.
The defeat to Wolves was a good example. Conceding 30 shots and barely creating anything did not seem a sustainable pattern. Similar matches ended in points for Burnley last season, but it’s very unlikely the same will happen this season.
Dyche is facing his biggest test of his Burnley tenure. Despite squad limitations, he may have to adapt if Burnley to avoid a season-long relegation scrap. Whether a system change or a tweak to their build-up play, Burnley’s start to the season is a stark warning of how quickly the success of last term can unravel.
It is still only a few matches. Everything could revert to how it was in 2017/18 yet, but Burnley are, for now at least, one of the favourites for relegation this season. We will learn a lot about Dyche over the coming weeks.
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