Burnley are beginning to look like a Premier League team but for one key failing


Burnley have seven opportunities left on their survival quest but when they look back at this season, this may be the game they rue the most.

Wolverhampton Wanderers manager Gary O’Neil put it best. Without Pedro Neto, Hwang Hee-Chan and with Matheus Cunha only on the bench, “Burnley would have fancied this,” he said.

Vincent Kompany’s side did fancy it. They surprised O’Neil with their set-up, selecting both strikers Lyle Foster and David Datro Fofana. They were aggressive, progressive and controlled large parts of the game, containing Wolves in their own half.

Yet their total of 0.98 expected goals (xG) was the 17th time this season they have not registered an xG above 1, and it was their lack of quality around the box which was the key reason the gap to survival grew from four points to six.

Since the back-to-back defeats to Arsenal and Crystal Palace in February, Burnley’s creativity has been on an upward curve. Against Bournemouth (1.49), Brentford (1.98) and Chelsea (1.64) they registered three of their top five xG totals of the season.

They had scored two goals in each of their last three games, too, which helped spark a three-game unbeaten run.

That was extended to four with the 1-1 draw with Wolves and the attacking numbers were there again. On only three occasions have they managed more than their six shots on target and only four times have Burnley had more touches in the opposition box than 36.

4 2 Burnley vs. Wolves match dashboard wide

The Burnley vs Wolves match dashboard, showing the threat timeline, territory, match stats, shot maps and pass networks

Yet when they needed a big moment in the second half with the scores level, they were unable to summon another one.

Burnley were able to field both Fofana and Foster, their two biggest goal threats, together for the first time in a front four with Wilson Odobert and Jacob Bruun Larsen. There was a promising fluidity, movement, interchange and effective link-up play.

But when they arrived at Wolves’ box it all broke down. Whether it was indecision, a touch too many, crowding space or rushing, the final pass or shot lacked precision and quality. The inexperience and lack of cutting edge was on show – a functional football team lacking that magic.

“We looked like a Premier League team today but it doesn’t buy us any points, it doesn’t put us higher in the league,” Kompany said. “It gave us a bit more running power today (Foster and Fofana). We have good players on the ball but if we needed to go in behind we had powerful runners. Jacob (Bruun Larsen) has given us that too. It’s always to have that balance. When these players weren’t fit we didn’t have those tools, now we do and that is useful.”

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The closest they came to a winner in the second half was through Bruun Larsen when he latched onto a low Vitinho cutback but fired straight at Jose Sa.

Burnley’s control was highlighted by full-backs Charlie Taylor and Vitinho often being in advanced positions but their crossing lacked consistency. Burnley attempted 27 open play crosses, five more than their previous highest of 22, but their accuracy of 14.8 per cent highlighted how they played into Wolves’ hands.

Ironically, their goal, after 37 minutes, did come from a cross, delivered by centre-back Dara O’Shea from a deeper area. It found Bruun Larsen unmarked and he cushioned a volley into the corner. The difference was Wolves’ defence was not set, which meant there was space to exploit.

That lack of organisation disappeared as the game went on. Kompany praised the away side’s box defending. They were compact, resilient and let Burnley have the ball in positions they were comfortable with.

“Credit to Wolves, the way they defended the box, I thought was absolutely perfect,” he said. “We are good when we arrive in the final third, but that final pass or moment to finish the chance, that’s ultimately what we need to get to the next level.”

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Vincent Kompany was pleased with Burnley’s display but frustrated at the result (Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

The Belgian could sense the opportunity of three points and fuelled the open contest by throwing caution out of the window. For a period of the second half all three strikers – Foster, Fofana and Jay Rodriguez – were on the pitch at the same time.

It could have backfired, with Wolves posing a threat on the counter-attack, but Burnley are at the point when risks have to be taken. Every point is invaluable, and just like performances have to turn into results, chances have to become goals.

It all may have looked so different had another key refereeing decision not gone against Burnley. Under minimal contact, Rayan Ait-Nouri appeared to trip himself while pirouetting away from Dara O’Shea. A free-kick was awarded and the same player headed home to equalise.

Earlier this week, Kompany spoke out about the standard of refereeing. He has grown tired of seeing decisions go against his team, knowing the vital points it has cost them, and has decided to publicly make a stand.

He was much calmer than when sent off against Chelsea, when Lorenz Assignon conceded a soft penalty and was given a second yellow card. However, as he waits to find out the extent of his touchline ban for that incident, he is not hiding his sense of injustice.

The true extent of how much of an opportunity missed this was will become clearer when the final whistle blows at Goodison Park after Burnley take on Everton. Regardless, they need a consistent ruthless streak in front of goal from here on out.

(Top photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images)





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