Before the current Premier League season got underway, there was a broad consensus that the ‘big six’ clubs who had been so dominant the previous campaign would once again prove too strong for the rest.
The brief belief that Everton – seventh from the previous season – could bridge the gap was swiftly dispelled with the Toffees awful start indicating they had regressed despite their big spending.
Burnley’s shock win on the opening day sent shockwaves throughout the division, giving hope that this could be a season where the established order would not dominate the rest of the division.
Sean Dyche’s side subsequently followed up the Stamford Bridge victory with draws at Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester United.
Ashley Barnes netted a late winner for the Clarets at home to Stoke City on 12 December to lift the side into fith temporarily.
It was Burnley’s second 1-0 home win in the space of four days and made it nine wins from their opening 17 league games. They had placed the cat among the pigeons and had seemingly stumbled upon the perfect formula for success in the division on a limited budget.
Dropping off a cliff
Yet since that night, they have not won any of their 12 subsequent matches in all competitions and have scored just six goals in their last 11 league outings.
Remarkably, they have dropped only to seventh – a position they have held for over two months despite collecting a mere five points in that timeframe.
This could well be a case of Burnley ‘regressing to their mean’; whereby they followed a period of over-performance with a below par spell of form which was more in-line with their skillset and ability.
Should this be alarming for the club? After all, despite a wretched run of form they are still comfortably in the top half of the table and have no concerns over relegation, which would have been the primary objective at the start of the campaign.
Flattering to deceive?
It must be remembered that, of their nine league wins this season, a 2-0 home victory over Swansea was the sole victory secured by more than one goal.
Their win at Chelsea came with the massive caveat of Gary Cahill’s early red card, and the home side spurning numerous chance to rescue a point from three goals down and two men fewer.
This isn’t the first prolonged spell of bad form in the top flight and last season the Lancashire side won just two of their final 17 matches as they plummeted from the lofty heights of mid-table to a 16th-placed finish.
There’s a striking similarity between the two seasons with Dyche’s troops appearing to run out of steam in the second half of both.
A lack of teeth
Only the two Manchester clubs and Tottenham have conceded fewer goals than Burnley (25) this campaign but the real concern lies with the lack of attacking threat.
Only Swansea City have scored fewer than Burnley so far and, in their past 27 league outings, they have netted a paltry 19 goals.
The opening few months were played to a backdrop of Burnley ceding possession and shots to the opposition yet more often than not, securing a positive result.
The emergence of xG (expected goals) statistics have also hinted that Burnley’s results were not sustainable and eventually they would suffer a dip in form.
Perhaps too other teams have formulated a plan to combat Dyche’s restrictive tactics, with a greater focus on dragging their holding players out of position and working more space.
Time for change?
It cannot be discounted that, despite their winless streak, this is still a side with strong belief and who are capable of picking up notable results.
They took a two-goal lead at Old Trafford before eventually drawing, while they became only the fourth Premier League side to halt Manchester City’s procession towards the league title.
The club’s restricted budget and facilities must be taken into account when analysing Burnley’s season as a whole and many still view Dyche as a contender for the Manager of the Year title.
Yet losing all momentum in results by Christmas for a second consecutive season must be a concern to those in the club’s hierarchy and a useful indicator that their approach may need to be modified.
What do you think? Should Burnley fans be worried? Let us know your thoughts by commenting below.