They’ve punched above their weight for years, belying one of the smallest budgets and slimmest playing squads to somehow stay competitive in the English Premier League.
But will time soon be up for Sean Dyche and his unfashionable Burnley team in the division?
The team from a quaint town in Lancashire that once was at the heart of global textile production heads into the second half of the season in the relegation zone. That’s not unusual, some would say, for a club that is accustomed to residing in the bottom half of the standings.
Except this time, it just feels different.
One league win all season — at home to promoted Brentford in late October — is clearly a worry. As is its paltry total of three clean sheets, a sign of the new-found fragility of a team that has for so long placed so much stock in being tight and well-organized at the back.
Then there’s the punch to the gut that was delivered on Thursday, when Burnley had no choice but to sell its star striker, Chris Wood, to relegation rival Newcastle after the release clause of 25 million pounds ($34.5 million) was triggered. The New Zealand international — a battering ram of a center forward and the epitome of Burnley’s often-direct style — is the team’s record scorer in the Premier League with 49 and a contributor of 29% of all of its goals since his debut in August 2017, according to Opta.
In and out of the Premier League from 2009-15 and a permanent fixture for the past six years, Burnley — with its charming 22,000-capacity Turf Moor stadium, its no-nonsense playing approach, the gruff voice of Dyche — has been a staple of England’s top flight. Indeed, that’s partly what attracted American consortium ALK Capital to buy Burnley, one of the 12 founder members of the English Football League in 1888, a year ago.
“Britain’s favorite underdog,” is how Alan Pace, the Burnley chairman, described the club upon his arrival as its first foreign owner. Yet, at the current rate, the team will be disappearing to the Championship with barely a whimper unless Pace can maybe upgrade the squad significantly in the remainder of the January transfer window and Dyche can work another miracle.
After all, under Dyche, who has been in charge since October 2012 and is the longest-serving manager in the Premier League, Burnley improbably qualified for the 2018-19 Europa League, giving the team’s supporters a first run in European competition in half a century and one of their best moments since last winning England’s top division, in 1960.
Since then, Burnley has finished 15th and 17th in two of the three league campaigns and, this season, finds itself in 18th place and suddenly lacking an identity as Dyche attempts — somewhat unsuccessfully — to add some attacking thrust to his team.
With 16 goals from 17 games, Burnley is the third lowest-scoring team and has just lost its best striker in Wood. Maxwel Cornet might have made a strong impression since joining from Lyon last year, scoring six goals in 10 league games, but he is away at the African Cup of Nations with Ivory Coast and has had fitness issues.
Where will the goals come from heading into a key part of the season, which will see Burnley face Leicester on Saturday and relegation rival Watford on Tuesday? Dyche’s side has more games left to play — 21 — than any other team because of three postponements before Christmas.
There will be no FA Cup getting in the way, though, after losing at home to second-tier Huddersfield in the third round on Saturday.
“The experience and knowledge of (surviving in the Premier League) is a good thing,” Dyche told local media this week, “but you don’t want to be naive to think it’ll be alright then. I’ve assured the players of that, said, ’No, no, alrightness gets nothing.’
“You need to be way better than alright to be sure you’re looking after yourselves. We’re looking at that scenario, and because we have experience and know the challenge, it doesn’t mean it owes us anything. We have to go out and earn it.”
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