While Pep Guardiola and his Manchester City side must be considered the manager and team of the season to this point due to their sheer dominance, Sean Dyche and Burnley must be contenders for the runners up spot.
They may have only picked up two wins in the league since the start of December, including the manic festive period, Dyche’s side still sit in seventh and as far away from the relegation dogfight as their most optimistic fan would’ve hoped for at this stage of the season. 34 points represents a magnificent return given that so many had anticipated Burnley would struggle in this campaign after the sales of Michael Keane and Andre Gray to Everton and Watford respectively. While those two individuals have found life away from Turf Moor very difficult, their former side has performed wonderfully.
Dyche, a man linked with a move away from Lancashire during the summer including talk of him replacing Sam Allardyce as Palace boss, has seen his star get brighter and brighter. Quite possibly the most highly rated English manager there currently is, the former Watford manager has worked wonders with a squad without obvious stars. Players like Robbie Brady (currently injured), James Tarkowski and Ben Mee have been released by bigger clubs in years gone by but are providing the sort of performances that indicate that their former employers should’ve been a little more trusting. Mee, captain for much of the season in the absence of Tom Heaton after his injury in the reverse fixture between these sides in September, proves week in, week out that he is one of the most consistent centre halves currently plying their trade in the top flight. There are only a few better left sided centre backs in the league and in view of Virgil van Dijk’s £75 million price tag, you’d estimate that if a club wanted to test Burnley’s resolve in relation to Mee’s services, the bidding would start somewhere beyond the £25 million they recouped from Everton for Keane’s services last summer.
It’s a business model that works for Burnley and Dyche himself may be the source of interest in the coming months. West Ham, when in search of a new boss, were allegedly interested. Southampton, when considering the future of their current manager, had Dyche towards the top of their replacement list by all accounts. Everton, when taking their time to replace Ronald Koeman, were very much interested but the word was that Dyche felt he was better served by remaining with The Clarets at that point in time. The truth is, that after such an impressive stint as Burnley’s manager, there will be very few Premier League managerial vacancies that won’t see Dyche’s named linked with it. Quite rightly.
It was of course the trip to Turf Moor in September that was the end of the line for Frank de Boer. Despite an improved performance from what had come before and gilt edged chances being missed by those in black that day, the decision was taken to remove the Dutchman after just four league games and introduce Roy Hodgson to the dugout. You’d struggle to argue that wasn’t the right choice despite the clamour at the time.
Saturday’s fixture will see Dyche come up against a manager who will have a lot of respect for him. After all his years in the game, Hodgson will surely have great admiration for a manager who has worked as hard as Dyche has to find himself where he has got to.
Notorious for how well they set their sides up, Hodgson vs Dyche is unlikely to produce a vivid, footballing spectacle for those in attendance on Saturday. That said, those who enjoy a tactical battle should enjoy what’s in front of them.
Should either side come out on top come 5pm on Saturday, you can be assured it will have been well earned.
When Tom Heaton was ruled out for a sustained period of time, onlookers believed Burnley’s impressive start to the campaign would be seriously hampered. One man who didn’t appear too concerned was Sean Dyche and that will be because he knew that Nick Pope was ready and raring to go.
Pope’s form since replacing the club captain, Heaton, has been superb. Commanding, communicative and a fine shot stopper, Pope’s name has already been linked with a move away from Turf Moor. First and foremost, he’ll be focused on maintaining the number one jersey as his teammate returns to full fitness.Embed from Getty Images
Dyche was desperate to land the centre half from Brentford a couple of seasons ago. Tarkowski went to the point of refusing to play for his then employers in order to get move he wanted so badly and, given his form under the tutelage of his manager, you can see why the defender strived for the move.
A reserve to Ben Mee and Michael Keane last season, Tarkowski has thrived since Keane departed and made the position his own. His fine form this campaign has been rewarded with a new deal and the centre back looks a very assured Premier League player.Embed from Getty Images
Palace’s current state could be oh so different if Barnes has managed to clip his effort at The Amex beyond Julian Speroni. Instead, Speroni pulled off one of the finest saves of his career as he glanced Barnes’ effort on to the bar and the rest, as they say, is history. Barnes, however, has moved on since his Brighton days and is one of Burnley’s most in form players. Despite the side’s recent stumble in terms of results, Barnes has been impressive.
Never the most prolific, Barnes’ value comes in his work rate and his ability to hound defenders into mistakes. He’s a team mates’ dream and Dyche clearly rates Barnes highly.Embed from Getty Images