END OF AN ERA: ARE BURNLEY DESTINED FOR THE DROP?
Updated: Jan 21
With news that Chris Wood has departed Burnley for a direct relegation rival in Newcastle United, the misery only continues to pile up at Turf Moor.
With Maxwel Cornet away on Africa Cup Of Nations’ duties - one of the only bright sparks at Burnley so far this campaign - Burnley look to be heading through the Premier League trapdoor. Sean Dyche’s men have become Premier League regulars in the last few seasons, even finishing 7th in the 17-18 season and flirting with the Europa League group-stages before Olympiacos intervened.
With a group and a manager that have been together for a long time, is it a case of the Burnley camp eventually running out of steam? Are they destined for their first relegation since the 14-15 season?
Burnley this season have lost the steel of previous campaigns, only one win registered with 17 played. Last season, finishing 17th in the Premier League, they were helped out by the bottom three being way off the pace with Sean Dyche’s men struggling but able to keep their heads above water due to the failings of Fulham, West Brom and Sheffield United.
Now, in 18th, there’s no place to hide. The performances this campaign have lacked that steel you expect from a Clarets side under Sean Dyche, that ability to battle and somehow scrape a point or even three out of nothing.
Dyche’s men are without a win since the end of October, the Maxwel Cornet show coming alive yet again with a great finish into the top corner with newly departed Chris Wood opening the scoring in a 3-1 triumph over Brentford.
Since then, a few draws here and there have passed Burnley by whilst also going to St James Park and handing Newcastle their first win of the entire season.
The last two results are the most worrying from a Clarets perspective, losing to fellow relegation rivals Leeds to allow Bielsa’s men to gain some breathing distance over the bottom three and succumbing to a Third Round FA Cup exit to Huddersfield who play in the division below Burnley.
Safe to say, optimism is hard to find in Lancashire at the moment if you’re a Clarets fan.
The Leeds defeat saw Dyche’s men crumble at Elland Road, not even a Maxwel Cornet stunner from a free-kick would see Burnley steal a share of the points - even with their star-man, points have been hard to come by.
With his absence whilst Ivory Coast battle to be AFCON champions, could Burnley find themselves in an insurmountable spot by the time of the Ivorian’s return to England?
The Stuart Dallas effort to pull Leeds ahead was worthy of winning any contest, but Burnley sides of the past would have gained the upper-hand at 1-1 and managed to pick up a solid point on their travels.
But, in the context of their recent struggles, this Burnley side are flaky in managing to hold on and steer themselves away from danger.
A welcome distraction from their recent Premier League woes would have been a confidence boosting win over Huddersfield in the FA Cup Third Round, Huddersfield however having other ideas.
The trend of late collapses in league action translated to the Cup, Sorba Thomas providing both assists as Huddersfield won late on through Matty Pearson.
Fixtures ahead for Dyche’s strugglers aren’t the kindest either, games against Leicester and Arsenal in January are followed by Manchester United and Liverpool to start February.
Yet, in-between Leicester visiting Turf Moor and Burnley travelling down to The Emirates, the Watford home match is pivotal.
A Tuesday night affair under the floodlights at Turf Moor should suit Burnley, an environment that could signal the win at all costs mentality Dyche had regimented into his previous Burnley sides who avoided relegation.
Claudio Ranieri hasn’t exactly worked at Vicarage Road either, losing a significant amount of games since his arrival with the Hornets leaking goals for fun. To their advantage, Emmanuel Dennis has opted against joining up with Nigeria at the AFCON.
Dennis is Watford’s Cornet to a large degree, their main source of goals in testing times at Vicarage Road.
This feels like a must-win game for Burnley - lose this match, and they’re plunged even further into the mire.
One positive of Chris Wood moving on to Newcastle is the added funds Burnley could recuperate into their current playing squad, a team in need of some fresh blood to kickstart a climb up the table.
Rumours are linking The Clarets with a move for Seiko Fofana, the Ivory Coast midfielder with five goals in 17 appearances for Lens this season. With the success of Maxwel Cornet, Burnley look set to be targeting another Ivory Coast international to add to their roster.
With Jack Cork and Ashley Westwood both unspectacular for Burnley so far this campaign, Fofana would offer something fresh centrally.
I imagine a striker will be top of the list for Sean Dyche, a free-scoring option needed with the exit of Chris Wood bolstering Newcastle and Matej Vydra way off his best.
Could we see Ben Brereton-Diaz defect over to the Claret half of Lancashire from Blackburn?
A striker in the form of his life, the Chile international would suit Burnley’s physical approach.
Yet, with the rivalry between Blackburn and Burnley obvious, this feels like a pipedream rather than anything that could realistically occur.
Many more twists and turns will occur in the Premier League this season, but in their current predicament, Burnley could well slip down to the Championship for the first time in eight years.
A squad stretched to its maximum, Burnley are in dire need of some fresh energy - Maxwel Cornet is the standout performer, a summer signing no less. If Burnley use the Chris Wood money wisely, they could well leapfrog a porous Watford side directly above them.
But, after punching above their weight routinely and becoming an established top tier team in recent years, I fear this might be Burnley’s time to drop back down to the Championship.