Burnley: Are we sure… the Europa League will be bad?
It’s common knowledge that taking part in the Europa League can put a dampener on a side’s league ambitions, but are the Clarets ready to avoid that fate?
The Europa League. It’s nothing but trouble. A consolation prize at best, tinpot at worst. And it doesn’t half wreck your league form.
That’s the common consensus when it comes to Europe’s secondary competition, often seen as the Carabao Cup of the continent. A chance to poke fun at the ‘big six’ teams who don’t make the Champions League cut because they have to play on a Thursday, it is thought of by many as nothing more than a distraction.
It isn’t a totally fair image. Last season, the competition was remarkably strong. Atletico Madrid won it, as many expected of them, but other European heavyweights such as Arsenal, AC Milan, Lyon, up-and-comers RB Leipzig, and beaten finalists Marseille helped to make for some fascinating ties.
If you commit to it, it can be a wonderful ride. Liverpool fans found that out in 2015/16, making the final after beating Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund, and Villarreal along the way. Now, it’s Burnley’s turn.
Through to the group stage
After their against-the-odds achievements in 2017/18, the Clarets have earned their shot at European glory.
And, despite what common knowledge may suggest, they might not have to sacrifice their league ambitions to enjoy the ride.
Their extra-time win over Istanbul Basaksehir on Thursday night underlined the fact that Burnley have the strength in depth to cope with the extra games on their schedule, through the group stage and early rounds at least. Crucially, this strength lies predominantly in defence.
Sean Dyche made six changes from the side that drew at Southampton on the opening day of the season, and managed to field a competitive side.
Four changes in defence, another clean sheet
Joe Hart continued to deputise in goal in the absence of Tom Heaton and Nick Pope, while the entire back four was switched.
The profile of the players brought in suggests that the Clarets should fare well, and while they may not be the most impressive names in world football, Dyche has revolutionised the club by squeezing consistently good team performances from unheralded names.
Kevin Long and Phil Bardsley are both experienced defenders with international caps to their name while Charlie Taylor and Ben Gibson are young and hungry for success.
None of the four are likely to hide from responsibility and should be effectively marshalled by the voice of Hart behind them, who has plenty of European experience under his belt.
Further forward, Burnley’s backup options are less impressive, though the European and international pedigree of midfielder Steven Defour could see the Europa League play an important role in his eventual rehabilitation from long-term injury.
The ability to rotate between burly target man Chris Wood and burly target man Sam Vokes should prove useful while Ashley Barnes, Jonathan Walters, Nahki Wells and Matej Vydra provide a reasonable variety of options either beside or instead of one of the big boys.
Are we sure?
What should be the most important factor for Burnley, though, is the fact that they are in Europe. Burnley Football Club – that’s something that shouldn’t stop being fun anytime soon, results permitting.
When one of the smaller sides in the Premier League has a real go at the Europa League, wonderful things can happen – just ask former UEFA Cup finalists Fulham and Middlesbrough.
Take the competition seriously, and the positive feeling and momentum it can generate can make up for the extra strain on tired legs. Besides, the extra matches won’t be anything new to this squad, plenty of whom have 46-game Championship seasons under their belts.
Of course, the chances of Burnley going above and beyond and finishing seventh again look fairly slim given the strength of the opposition. But they will be hopeful of securing, at very least, a respectable finish.
And, really, Burnley probably aren’t going to win the Europa League. But then, really, Burnley probably weren’t going to qualify for the Europa League either…
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