The Clarets must add attacking pace before the summer transfer window closes, writes Michael Connell.
Modern football may seem far removed from the game’s primitive origins in medieval mob football but one thing hasn’t changed, that the game is primarily about getting the ball from one end of a field to the other.
There are three obvious ways you can do this: the traditionally English way of booting the ball up the pitch and aiming to win it back (or a set piece) in a dangerous area through pressing and strong tackling; the continental way of building play up the pitch with a series of short passes; or by using quick players to run on to balls played in behind the opposition or to carry the ball up the pitch by dribbling.
In reality, the best sides will use a suitable blend of all three (Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United sides over the last two decades are a perfect example) but at the moment Burnley are entirely reliant on building play patiently up the pitch due to our lack of real pace in attacking positions and given that we also possess neither the players nor seemingly the inclination to play a long-ball game. This reliance is a problem because it puts pressure on the team to keep possession and build play up the pitch, while at the same time restricting the space the team has to play in, as opposition sides without the threat of direct counter attacking can press high up the pitch and compress the active playing area.
So what? Some might argue that it’s preferable to focus on patient possession football, after all, that’s the way modern sides should aspire to play – the Barcelona way. However, it’s a misconception that ‘tiqui-taca’ sides rely entirely on patient build up play. It’s more accurate that they simply don’t often get to show that side of their play because teams defend so deep and compact against them. On the rare occasions that teams press high up the pitch against sides like Barcelona, such as this game against Espanyol, they look to play quick balls in behind the defence using the pace of their attacking players (in this example Pedro and David Villa). One of the reasons teams defend so deep against teams of this kind is partly because of their pace. Swansea last season in the Premier League were also lauded for their possession game, but they too used direct balls in-behind and out wide to Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer.
It’s also a slight worry whether Burnley’s midfielders are even suited to this type of game. McCann is most effective when driving forwards on the ball or arriving late into the penalty area, Bartley is an athletic box-to-box player and Marney, despite some excellent and surprising performances last season as a deep-lying distributor, is more often little more than a dependable and hardworking Championship player. None are merely limited midfield runners in the mould of past players like Lenny Johnrose or James O’Connor but equally none could be described as particularly technical midfielders or as playmakers. New signing Brian Stock is the exception but by the manager’s own admission, the former Doncaster Rovers midfielder’s injury problems will unfortunately restrict him to limited playing time.
In truth, this is more likely a headache caused by the disappointing injuries to Martin Paterson and Danny Ings rather than poor planning on Eddie Howe’s part. Especially so given the manager’s recent comments after the club announced the signing of Jamaican winger Dane Richards:
“We are delighted to have signed Dane, who is a player we have been tracking for a while… I watched him at New York, where he played for a number of years and he is someone who has all the attributes we are looking for to add to our squad. He is quick and direct and has a real turn of pace,” Howe said when confirming Richards’ signing.
However, it’s a long time till January, especially given there are no guarantees that Martin Paterson will be able to play regularly. By then any play-off ambitions we might have had may have been seriously damaged. Therefore, making sure some pace is brought into the side before the window closes is vital.
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