It feels like an awfully long time ago that Burnley were taking part in continental competition. Last season’s seventh-place finish – their best performance in the top flight since 1973/74 – booked the Clarets’ spot in the Europa League qualifying phase, where they beat Aberdeen and Istanbul Basaksehir before suffering a 4-2 aggregate loss to Olympiacos in the play-off round.
Falling at the final hurdle was a disappointment, but there was no shame in losing to a team who have regularly reached the Champions League group stage in recent years.
There were, however, few positives to take from the first few weeks of the Premier League campaign, when Sean Dyche’s side experienced a European hangover of sorts. A 0-0 draw with Southampton on the opening day preceded a miserable run of four consecutive defeats, the last of which – a 1-0 reverse against Wolverhampton Wanderers – was perhaps Burnley’s worst performance in the top tier since their most recent promotion in 2016.
They finally got off the mark with back-to-back victories over Bournemouth and Cardiff City, but a subsequent sequence of just one win in 12 left them in the relegation zone on Boxing Day. Dyche admitted during that run that his team had “lost the eye of the tiger” and were playing with fear, unable to carry out the tenets of the philosophy which had brought them so much success in 2017/18.
Yet even during that difficult stretch, there was never any question of Dyche losing his job. The former Watford boss certainly has plenty of credit in the bank for the phenomenal work he has done at Turf Moor since taking charge in 2012, but there is more to it than that; given that Burnley have a very clear identity based upon Dyche’s methods and principles, the club correctly reasoned that he remained the best man to engineer a turnaround in fortunes.
The Clarets have continually demonstrated the value of patience, stability and continuity in the last few years, and that approach has paid off massively in recent weeks. Saturday’s 3-1 triumph over Brighton and Hove Albion means Burnley have now gone seven games without defeat in the Premier League, something they had never done previously. Wins against West Ham United, Huddersfield Town and Fulham, as well as draws with Watford, Southampton and, most impressively of all, Manchester United have lifted them into 15th place, and while there is still a long way to go in the race to avoid relegation, Burnley now look well positioned to extend their top-flight stay to a fourth season.
“I’m pleased with seven unbeaten in the Premier League, it’s another historical marker for these players,” Dyche said after Saturday’s success on the south coast. Mostly pleased for the mentality of the group because there have been heavy questions this year, a different kind of season.
“There’s still more to come but lots of questions, lots of confusion, lots of odd things, lots of differences, lots of new challenges and culminating in a tough day on Boxing Day when we had to realign. They (the players) take massive credit for that. It just floods back in very quickly; no one can put their finger on it.
“When it goes you can smell it coming back again, it’s a strange thing. After West Ham (a 2-0 victory at the end of December) you could feel it coming back again into the group.”
Now three points and three places above the drop zone, Burnley are once again demonstrating how to get the absolute most out of the resources at your disposal.
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