Sean Dyche’s Burnley prevailed with their defensive set-up against runaway League leaders Manchester City, earning a point against Pep Guardiola’s side in front of the Turf Moor faithful thanks to Johann Berg Gudmundsson, writes Maryam Naz.
The organisation, commitment and never-say-die policy from his players to take a share of the spoils in the dying moments of the game, proved that there are some weaknesses inherent in this City side, and Dyche may hold the answers to exploiting them through his defensive strategies.
The game began slowly for City due to Burnley’s defensive set-up from the off. Dyche’s men played in their preferred 4-4-1-1 formation which meant that there was little space in the centre of the pitch for the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero to exploit.
Despite this, Burnley’s sloppy possession meant that they were under the cosh from the attacking prowess of City’s front three players early on in the game. As a result, they played on the counter-attack and used the aggressive forward play of Sam Vokes up front to cause havoc for the City defence, targeting Vincent Kompany, who appeared to lack confidence on the ball having included in the team primarily for his physicality.
Burnley seemed to be hanging on despite conceding possession regularly, that was until the 31st minute when they paid the price for their careless play. A short corner taken by De Bruyne, who fed the ball to Bernardo Silva, saw the Portuguese pass to Danilo who found himself without a Clarets defender in sight.
Burnley’s defenders made the mistake of dropping off the left-back which allowed him to curl the ball out of Nick Pope’s reach into the top right corner of the goal, making it 1-0.
Sensing disarray in Burnley’s defensive ranks, City built upon this in the second half and utilized Bernardo and Raheem Sterling to cultivate more chances. The pair excelled, exploiting the narrow defending by providing width in the spaces where Burnley’s full-backs normally tucked in alongside Jack Cork.
Yet the home side managed to hang on despite City getting into second gear, and nearly scored through Aaron Lennon in the 69th minute, whose shot was magnificently tipped onto the bar by Ederson.
He would rue this miss when Icelander Gudmundsson equalised for Burnley in the 81st minute, thanks to both a peach of a delivery into the penalty box by Matthew Lowton, and faulty defending from Kompany.
After four more minutes of nerves for Dyche’s men, the referee blew the final whistle in tandem with the cheers of the Turf Moor faithful.
Burnley’s brilliant performance today was not a one-off, but rather a feature of their play across the season, especially against the teams at the top of the League such as City, Liverpool and Manchester United.
Their centre-back, Ben Mee, has been a pivotal figure in Dyche’s defensive setup, assisting in making the team such a difficult prospect to face.
Burnley also defend intelligently when it comes to tricking their opponents. They position their centre-backs into a narrow position which funnels shots towards the keeper, as seen with De Bruyne’s effort which Pope was able to save easily.
They also drop off and create space for shooters, which may seem risky, yet by default the shooter is surrounded by players which causes strikes to be easily blocked by the likes of Cork and the other defensive shields.
While this worked on a few occasions today, it can be argued that the tactic failed them in the build-up to Danilo’s goal, as he was left isolated with the ball and no pressure was put on him in the moments prior to his long-range curler.
Despite City dropping points here, they are still 16 points ahead of the other teams. Yet Burnley’s performance today suggests that they may still have some kinks to resolve in their defence.
The signing of the centre-back Aymeric Laporte suggests that Guardiola has acknowledged this, and it shows he is aware that they still have some way to shore up at the back.
On Burnley’s part, It was a collective effort which saw them take a hard-earned point. The performances of the players today, and throughout the season, suggest that the Clarets are on the up if they can duplicate this type of display moving forward.