How could they not be, having broken the English league record for number of consecutive top-flight wins. It might have only been Swansea City, but that’s precisely the point. It was only Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United too.
Next up, Barcelona and Real Madrid. Both of the Spanish giants have only ever recorded 16 straight league wins at their best. Just another notch on Pep Guardiola’s ornate bedpost.
We must beware of normalising this achievement, so what better way to put Burnley’s success into perspective than by looking back to our season predictions made back in August.
Firstly, all six of us who made selections picked Burnley to be relegated. Sarah Winterburn remarked that they ‘rode their luck last season and have since lost their best defender’, which seemed fair, I offered apologies to Sean Dyche but also selected them, John Nicholson very reasonably suspected that ‘their home form can’t be as good again but their away form could be as bad’ while Steven Chicken assessed Burnley as looking ‘incredibly unimaginative and are now without their best player from last season’. He has since changed his mind.
The comments section generally wastes little time in telling Football365’s writers that they know somewhere between little and nothing about football, but there was no rush to Burnley’s defence. Those predictions were made before the arrival of Chris Wood, but it would be a stretch to say that his signing would have changed things markedly. Having lost Michael Keane and Andre Gray, Burnley looked weaker than the team that had survived relegation by six points.
Casting minds back to those summer expectations helps to better assess Burnley’s half season on its merit, but we are still permitted to be astonished by each victory as they happen. Dyche has a team created on a fraction of the budget that is somehow breaking up the established top six despite the vast spending of those around them.
Burnley have spent approximately £140m on transfers in their history. Four Premier League clubs spent more than that in the summer.
‘I’ve seen club owners make some daft decisions but Leicester City’s appointment of Claude Puel seems plain bizarre. It’s baffled, saddened and angered me all in one go.
‘Baffled because I’m struggling to find a reason why my old club would make such an underwhelming appointment that’s hardly going to inspire a dressing room filled with players who were Premier League champs just two seasons ago.
‘Saddened because I think Leicester fans would rightly have expected the club’s owners to be braver and more ambitious. And angered because once again English managers – and Sean Dyche in particular – appear to have been overlooked for a Frenchman’ – Stan Collymore.
‘RIP British coaching’ – Richard Keys.
There is nothing wrong with having opinions that are subsequently proven to be incorrect, because we all do that. Football would lose most of its allure if everything was predictable.
Yet it is the condescension with which foreign (and it is only foreign) managers such as Puel are treated that is so galling, and inevitably makes the rest of us want them to succeed. Alan Pardew fails at Crystal Palace, but is welcomed back into West Brom. Claude Puel struggles at Southampton, and woe betide if he gets another job.
This column has already dealt with the accusation that Puel is a defensive manager, with the more accurate assessment being that he was a manager whose style had issues but who was let down by Southampton’s strikers.
But Leicester are now a club transformed by Puel. They are now just four points behind Arsenal having been in the relegation zone when Craig Shakespeare was sacked, albeit after a tough run to start the season. They are sixth in a table created since Puel took over, and only Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City have more points away from home in that time. Leicester have won four straight league games.
As for ‘hardly being able to inspire players’, speak to Jamie Vardy, Shinji Okazaki and Riyad Mahrez about that. Leicester’s three most important attackers of their title-winning season have been revitalised under Puel’s brief stewardship. For all the doubts over Puel’s lack of goals, only Manchester City and Liverpool have scored more since his appointment.
On Wednesday evening, Leicester scored four away goals in the Premier League for the first time since February 2004. If this is defensive football, supporters will be happy to get used to it.
Understated and still underrated, Silva remains the one master magician in the Premier League. Philippe Coutinho, Christian Eriksen and Mesut Ozil may stake their claims, but nobody touches Silva’s golden crown.
Using Stan Collymore’s opinion as a barometer of anything is dangerous, but he spent a recent column detailing why Silva should not be remembered as a Premier League all-time great, placing John Terry and Didier Drogba ahead of him, amongst others.
I use the examples of Terry and Drogba for a reason, because Silva is their antithesis. In celebrity (and punditry), it is often those who shout the loudest who get heard and therefore remembered, and we increasingly tend to take memorability as a synonym for excellence.
The same is true for football, with Collymore explaining his preference for Drogba and Terry because ‘they were dominant over several years and demanded your attention’. His reasoning is shared by many others.
It is so easy to overlook Silva, partly because he has been doing the same thing for so long and partly because what he does is so smooth. Football’s version of celebrities demanding attention to be noticed and thus remembered is players with power and pace sticking in the mind, and Silva has neither in abundance. He is, to be frank, not the type of player FIFA enthusiasts want in their team.
Yet bizarrely, it is also Silva’s sheer quality that sees him taken for granted. If we can see the cogs turning in a player, and see the effort put into every ounce of brilliance, it makes them easier to appreciate. Silva makes the difficult look so damn easy that eventually we are persuaded that it must indeed be easy. And so it is overlooked.
What is true is that Silva is in the form of his life at the age of 31. Three players in the Premier League have scored at least five goals and assisted at least five goals this season, and all three play for City; Silva is one. It is no surprise that Guardiola has got the best out of a diminutive Spanish midfielder with a wonderful ethic who thrives when making intricate short passes.
Rather than doubting the greatness of Silva because you don’t notice him, it is precisely that ability to go under the radar that makes him so special. For all the lasting legacy of Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero, it is Silva who the majority of Manchester City supporters will miss most when he has gone.
He has got lucky in two away games in the space of four days, but that is what Allardyce does. By keeping his team in the game, Allardyce narrows the margins between defeat and victory away from home, and more often than not lands on the right side of the line. One goal has been conceded in four games, naturally.
The relegation battle
With little interest in the title race over the last five months of the season unless something extraordinary happens, we must look elsewhere for our points of interest. The bottom half of the table is currently separated by just six points with almost half the season played. A ten-team relegation fight?
The top four battle
With little interest in the title race over the last five months of the season unless something extraordinary happens, we must look elsewhere for our points of interest. Third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh are separated by just five points. A five-team top four fight?
Win against Chelsea followed by draw against Arsenal, and proof that the extra running is paying dividends. When you look through the quality of West Ham’s match-day squad on Wednesday, there is no reason why they shouldn’t move clear of danger. It’s all fine until the owners open their mouths.
The gentleman Roy Hodgson
Our early winner. A thinker among the shouters, and a manager hoping to completely an unlikely escapology act at his hometown club.
He loves Palace, and Palace love him. The more opposition supporters try to bring Zaha down with accusations of diving and inconsistency and taunts over the failed move to Manchester United, the more it spurs him on. There is no better pure winger in the Premier League on current form who doesn’t play for Manchester City.
Still no goal and only a second point, but moving from defeat at Swansea to draw at Anfield is good enough to appear here. Now for Manchester United on Sunday.
Not just a first Premier Keague start for Arsenal in 19 months, but his side’s best player. Tidy passing mixed with driving runs forward. Just a shame he missed that chance on his right foot.
3 – Willian has had a hand in three goals in a single Premier League game for the first time ever (1 goal, 2 assists). Magic. pic.twitter.com/aFh3ABrsiw
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 12, 2017
His first game back after five weeks out with injury, but slotted straight into Manchester United’s central defence and was probably their best player. With Eric Bailly out for at least another couple of months, Jones is now Jose Mourinho’s first-choice central defender.
His fourth Premier League start of 2017, with the other three coming after Mourinho had de-prioritised the competition. Shaw did not just play on Wednesday but played well.
Ashley Young will not be fearful for his place just yet, but it’s enough to retain hope that this young man may yet come good.
The ever-blameless Mark Hughes
Our early loser and top of the losers too. A miserable 64 points from 61 games, and Hughes still has the gall to suggest that he doesn’t merit the most blame for this extended funk. At some point Stoke City will pull the plug and presumably chase Sean Dyche. Until then, Hughes can continue to upsell the benefits of losing more games than he wins.
Prominent in the losers section for the second time in four days. On Monday I invited you to play the Newcastle United ‘compare the XI’ game to understand the magnitude of the task facing Rafael Benitez. Everton are surely exactly the type of club Newcastle are looking to emulate, so let’s play it now:
Darlow vs Pickford – Pickford
Yedlin vs Martina – Martina, just
Manquillo vs Kenny – Kenny
Lascelles vs Williams – Lascelles
Lejeune vs Holgate – Lejeune, just
Shelvey vs Gueye – Gueye
Merino vs Schneiderlin – Merino, just
Diame vs Rooney – Rooney
Ritchie vs Sigurdsson – Sigurdsson
Atsu vs Lennon – Atsu
Gayle vs Calvert-Lewin – Calvert Lewin
Elliot vs Robles – Elliot
Clark vs Keane – Keane
Harden vs Jagielka – Jagielka
Aarons vs Lookman – Lookman
Murphy vs Davies – Davies
Perez vs Vlasic – Perez
Joselu vs Niasse – Niasse
You may well have slightly different opinions on one or two of the match-ups, but the principle is clear. Everton win it 12-6.
Now consider that Everton have Yannick Bolasie, Seamus Coleman, Leighton Baines, Ramiro Funes Mori, James McCarthy and Ross Barkley injured. Newcastle currently don’t have a single member of the first-team squad listed as injured.
Finally, consider the spend on those squads on Wednesday night. How many of Everton’s 18 cost the club more than £20m to sign? Five. And Newcastle? None.
These are the constraints in which Benitez is being forced to operate. There is good news on the progression of the takeover, but it cannot come soon enough. Benitez has tried to rotate and tried continuity, but neither have worked. This squad requires some serious surgery in January.
Liverpool, and momentum lost
Momentum is a funny thing. In October, Manchester United went to Anfield having been in a rich vein of form and played a defensive style of football that led to a 0-0 draw. Mourinho’s side promptly struggled to recapture their goalscoring touch.
If Manchester United is Liverpool’s biggest home game of the season, Everton comes next. Jurgen Klopp chose to leave several players on the bench for the Merseyside derby and could only draw with Everton. Three days later, they stumbled to a 0-0 draw against West Brom. Having scored 32 goals in their previous nine games, momentum had been lost.
Reports since Sunday’s derby suggest that Klopp had been warned by his medical team about potential soft tissue injuries in the players who were benched, but that’s not the point. This is not an attempt at blaming, just explaining.
Had they taken their chances against Everton, Liverpool would surely have breezed past West Brom and be sitting level on points with Chelsea in third, four points above Tottenham in fifth. Yet that one stumble, that stalling of momentum, has had a knock-on effect. Rather than playing on instinct against West Brom, as they had been doing in recent weeks, Liverpool were suddenly over-thinking things in attack. They were ponderous and lethargic.
Momentum is a lot easier to lose than accrue, and now Klopp must again try and click his Liverpool team back into gear ahead of a run of five league games in 16 games. Continue to stumble, and they will quickly drop out of the top four picture.
If Claude Puel discovered the issues with Southampton’s shooting, Pellegrino hasn’t solved them. Southampton’s shot conversion rate last season was 10.1%, the lowest in the division. It has increased marginally to 10.9%, but then Southampton are taking fewer shots and creating fewer chances.
The difference is that Puel could organise a defence, something that seems to be troubling Pellegrino. If the issues with Southampton’s attack are frustrating, their defensive numbers are alarming. Pellegrini’s team are allowing 47% more shots on target than they were last season.
Marco Silva has also seen an increase in shots on target faced at Watford, albeit not to this extent. Yet Silva has counteracted that with improved attacking numbers; Watford are simply a more open, expansive team.
Pellegrino hasn’t done that. Southampton are as bad at scoring goals as they were under the last manager, and worse at defending. The last manager got sacked.
A truly dreary display. As I wrote after the game last night, sometimes a 0-0 draw can feel worse than a defeat. Apathy and atrophy is the new Arsenal way.
Four goals all season from 49 shots, Sanchez’s shot conversion has dropped from 18.6% to 8.6% in the space of one summer.
If keeping him happy was the aim in a desperate attempt to persuade him to stay, moving Sanchez back to the left wing does not seem like the perfect plan. It has reduced his output markedly.
The second most fouls in the Premier League and the most red cards too. Watford’s own indiscipline has played a role in two defeats in four days, and Marco Silva should be furious.
Watford have now dropped ten points in matches in which they scored the opening goal, a record ‘beaten’ only by Newcastle. It would be shame to waste such a wonderful start through the dimness of individual players.
Brighton have had 38 shots in their last five matches, and have scored once. When the defence is allowing the opposition to take 81 shots over the same five games, they’re going to have to take more of their chances or be in serious trouble.
At this stage of last season, Sadio Mane had contributed 11 goals and assists in the Premier league, had 14 shots on target and created 27 chances. He is down by four on the goals and assists, five on the shots on target and ten on the created chances. Over the last two games, Mane’s decision-making looked all awry too.