15:00 KO (BST); Saturday 19th August; Turf Moor (Burnley, England)
One of last season’s longest running saga’s has been wiped out before it ever really began. Sean Dyche’s Burnley have collected three points away from home, and not just any home either. With his team being again un-fancied by many commenters to have a successful season, Dyche had plenty of reason to feel smug at 5pm last Saturday afternoon.
By 5:03pm Saturday afternoon, Dyche would not doubt have been fully focused on the home game against West Brom and it’s this level of realism and practicality which will help drive the Clarets into mid-table.
West Brom are a side who are well-acquainted with mid-table safety. An ageing squad seems to have done little to prevent Tony Pulis’ side from their regular role of party spoilers after a physical and tactical approach at the Hawthorns again paid dividends for them. Like Burnley, the Baggies too had a poor record on the road last season, picking up only three wins from nineteen games.
Pulis employs a pragmatic approach to his football though and he will set his team up solidly knowing that a draw will represent a good start to the season for a team people often fail to notice in mid-table.
LAST TIME OUT
Chelsea 2 – 3 BURNLEY (Premiership)
Hard-working, disciplined, determined and energetic. These are all words regularly used to describe Burnley’s displays under the guidance of Sean Dyche. Ruthless may be a new word which needs to be added to this list, however. Burnley were lively from the first whistle and while Gary Cahill’s red card certainly helped the game move in the Clarets favour, there was much more to their first-half performance which saw them lead the defending champions 3-0 at the half-time interval.
Sam Vokes was the player to take much of Burnley’s credit. In a week that saw Andre Gray depart the club for Watford, Vokes made a strong statement that the club’s attacking options were still in good health.
He also had a strong presence in the air, winning seven of his ten aerial duels and terrorising the Chelsea defenders throughout the afternoon. With goals in four consecutive games for Burnley, Vokes is a striker in form and the Clarets next game is at their favourite football ground.
WEST BROM 1 – 0 Bournemouth (Premiership)
Tony Pulis had a game plan for his teams opening fixture and while it looked familiar to the Hawthorns faithful, it again proved effective in claiming his team all three points. A disciplined and defensive attitude to the game stifled Bournemouth’s attacking intent to an almost negligible factor. Meanwhile, some well-drilled training ground routines were well executed during set-pieces to provide a genuine goal-threat and source of worry for the Cherries.
New signing Ahmed Hegazi was installed directly into the starting line-up and looked assured in his Premiership debut in the typical mould of a Tony Pulis centre-back. His no-nonsense, physical approach was a commanding influence at the back of the pitch for the Baggies while he also displayed a prowess at the other end by heading the games only goal in the first-half.
Jay Rodriguez also made his West Brom debut following his £12m move this summer. A lively start to the game showed much promise for the striker, however, his impact on the game slowly waned as the game wore on, perhaps understandably for a player who’s missed large parts of recent seasons.
Dean Marney (knee) is the only player Dyche will be without
With a fully fit first-team, this leaves questions regarding which of his new arrivals will feature from the first whistle, with Phil Bardsley and Charlie Taylor in defence and Jack Cork and Jon Walters joining the midfield. Andre Gray’s £18.5m move to Watford will see Dyche play Sam Vokes and Ashley Barnes together up front for the Clarets as he shops for a suitable replacement, although Jon Walters recent form may see him used here.
West Brom Lineup
James Morrison and Gareth McAuley are still expected to be missing for the Baggies, while new recruit, Gareth Barry is unlikely to start the game too. Captain Jonny Evans continues to recover from an ankle injury, although, speculation surrounding a rumoured bid from Manchester City may further heighten his participation or lack thereof.
Key Battle: Jack Cork vs Claudio Yacob
After signing from Swansea for a fee believed to be around £10m, Cork adds a new dimension into Burnley’s game. His quality on the ball is far better than that of any other central midfield options at Dyche’s disposal and allows Burnley to control the rhythm of the game more.
Cork was a huge influence for his side against Chelsea and he brings a sense of composure to Burnley’s play which can help them stay steady at the back and launch forward as and when necessary.
The player in West Brom’s line-up who will be similarly used to set his teams tempo is Claudio Yacob. Despite just turning 30, Yacob is playing the best football of his career at the moment. The arrival of Jake Livermore last year forced Yacob to improve his all-round game and having ousted his midfield competitor in the pecking order, he has been the player used by Pulis to replace Darren Fletcher in the heart of midfield.
Primarily a defensive player rather than a cultured visionary, Yacob plays with an energy and determination which will drive those around him onwards in the collective cause.
To the left
Burnley enjoyed much joy down the left flank against Chelsea and it seems like an area of the pitch will continue to be prosperous for them throughout the coming season. Robbie Brady steadily improved during last season and had a strong summer with some good performances in the pre-season friendlies.
He has formed a solid partnership, linking up well with Stephen Ward to provide not only a strong attacking outlet for the Clarets but also a mean defence against opponents right-sided players.
This was also highlighted by the fact that both Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Scott Arfield, who subsequently replaced him in the 75th minute, were both unproductive on the opposite side of the pitch.
With Burnley playing a laterally balanced game, using the centre of the pitch as much as either wing, there was a chance for all players to make an impact on the game and prevent their movements becoming too predictable by favouring one area above others, however, the left side was clearly the most rewarding for the Clarets on this occasion.
A striking Baggie
Jay Rodriguez proved himself a live-wire at the Hawthorns last weekend and it appears that the Baggies may eventually have stumbled across a star striker after years of searching. His energy levels were a clear sign that he has completely overcome his recent injury problems that have seen his Premiership appearances severely restricted in the past two seasons.
Despite only starting nine games for the Saints last year, Rodriguez still managed to score five goals which, if he can maintain his fitness, should provide a very good return for the £12m that West Brom invested in the former Saint. With an all-round display that featured everything but a goal against Bournemouth, he is a player who can be a huge asset to his new team, however, if he can add goals to his performances, £12m will seem like a bargain.
Money, money, money….
With only two weeks of the transfer window remaining, clubs are starting to step up the efforts in signing new players. With a summer of crazy prices almost behind us, many of the mid-to-lower table teams still find themselves short of faces in the dressing room and there is plenty of headlines expected to break over the last few days of August.
Burnley have yet to replace their star central defender or striker from last season. West Brom, meanwhile, continue to be linked with central midfielders and could arguably require re-enforcements in defence where they’re light in numbers which could leave them vulnerable to injuries and suspensions.
Whatever transpires, both teams will be keen to pick up new talent, however, the price of that talent could go a long way to deciding who and how many new arrivals they manage to sign.
PREDICTION: Burnley 0 – 0 West Brom
In a league which offers goals and excitement, there’s always still room for a no-score draw and that looks to me, exactly what will be on offer at Turf Moor this weekend. While Burnley will be favourites to come out on top at home, West Brom will be keen to put the end of last season well out of their memory and it will be another resolute performance from them which the Clarets will find hard to break down.
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