A little surprised, yes. Nobody expected us to emulate our achievements of last season but I definitely think we should be a little more comfortable than we have been, although thankfully things have picked up in recent weeks.
I think there’s a few factors. Firstly, we didn’t really add too much quality in the transfer window. While teams around us and promoted teams strengthened, our main two outfield signings in Ben Gibson and Matej Vydra have just warmed the bench all season. Secondly, our squad just wasn’t deep enough to be playing Thursday and Sunday while travelling across Europe, meaning we were incredibly poor at the start of the season, as you saw at Craven Cottage (we were a shambles at the back). And although you can’t be blaming fatigue from European games we played in July/August when it comes to the middle of November, the start definitely affected our confidence and the players struggled to get out of that mindset. Thirdly, I know it’s a bit of a cliché but we have struggled with injuries, I personally think the loss of Nick Pope, who dislocated his shoulder in our first competitive game of the season, has been massive. He was a huge part of why our defensive record was so good last season, mainly thanks to his quality at collecting crosses and taking the pressure off his defence.
Definitely. When I walked off the Turf on Boxing Day after the 5-1 defeat against Everton there was so much negativity around the place, the players looked lost, and as silly as it sounds we looked down already. But since then we put in a brilliant performance against West Ham, ground out the result away at Huddersfield, and got a somewhat fortunate win against Barnsley in the cup. But we’re defending well again, defending resolutely like we were last season, and it feels as though we’re finally getting back into last season’s stride.
If I’m being brutally honest there haven’t been too many over the course of the season. Being pressed I’d have to go with Ashley Barnes, he’s our leading Premier League scorer this season and he’s the type of player that defenders hate to play against. He’ll throw himself about and will get stuck in, and likes to pop up with an important goal too! In the last few weeks though we’ve seen the emergence of Dwight McNeil, a Burnley youth product who’s come through the ranks and put in some really good performances, winning man of the match on two occasions.
Sean Dyche has been a little experimental this season with his formations and even played three at the back a couple of times, but I suspect he’ll go back to what’s been working recently, and last season, with a good old fashioned 4-4-2.
The main one has got to be Mitrović with eight goals so far this season in the Premier League, and two of those coming against us earlier in the year. I think the problem for us is that one of his main strengths is in the air and that seems to be where our defence has struggled this season despite doing so well in that area last term. Then there’s Schürrle who was a great coup for you guys in the summer and has the quality to unlock defences, and Ryan Sessegnon who can cause all sorts of problems with his quality out wide.
I think it’s the type of stadium where the fans have a massive part to play. The ground is incredibly tight, meaning the fans are really close to the pitch, so when we’re in a passionate mood the atmosphere can be incredibly intimidating. Unfortunately the atmosphere hasn’t been great so far this season, and there have been some quiet days at the Turf, even prompting some fan groups to meet up with the club in an attempt to improve it. However, against West Ham the atmosphere was back to what it should be so hopefully we can do that again this weekend.
It definitely has the be the Cricket Club, it tends to be the place where away fans always congregate, mainly because it’s one of the only places that welcomes them, which is surprising considering home and away fans do mingle well in there. The beauty of it for you guys is it’s right next to the away section of the ground too, meaning you can get there nice and early and not have to worry about rushing to the ground.
Hopefully it’s a tight game as that’s when we are at our strongest. If it turns into a high scoring game like earlier in the season I think it plays into your hands a little as you have players who can get on the ball and create some quality, with our main two creative players in Steven Defour and Robbie Brady struggling with injuries all season.
I’ve got to back Burnley, although you wouldn’t have heard me saying that after the Everton game. I just think this one has come at the right time for us after finally hitting some form for the first time this season and starting to play like we did last term when we were incredibly difficult to create chances against, which made us hard to beat. West Ham didn’t have a sniff against us and I’m hoping we can repeat that performance again this weekend. I’m going for 2-0 to the Clarets.