Burnley 0, Manchester United 2: Chris Boden’s match verdict
It’s the time of year where we like to look back on the previous 12 months.
And as a calendar year, 2019 has been a good one for Burnley Football Club.
From the second day of the New Year, when the Clarets climbed out of the Premier League’s bottom three with a 2-1 win at Huddersfield Town, Sean Dyche’s side have been on the up.
They finished in 15th, only bettered by the club once - the season before in finishing seventh - since 1973/74.
And as this year draws to a close, they sit 13th, after collecting a very healthy 24 points from 20 games to date.
That adds up to 49 from 38 over the year, which, over a season, would be a more than impressive tally.
Burnley have also scored 49 goals in that period - only this season’s top seven and Crystal Palace have hit more over the year.
So the two defeats that ended the year, and, indeed, the manner of the two wins that preceded those losses, have somewhat come against the grain.
Burnley have ended the year with three goals in seven games - five of which have been defeats - in a stint where chances have been as scarce.
It hasn’t made for exciting viewing, and has thrown up a number of debates, surrounding style of play, despite looking a good bet to claim a fifth-successive season in the top flight, and sixth in seven.
Dyche’s footballing nirvana has long been to try and hurt teams in as many ways as possible, with mixed play - to go through, round, over their opponents, whatever it takes to win.
While not always pretty, it has largely been pretty effective.
However, it is a tough watch at present.
You don’t get points for presentation, and Dyche is more about substance than style, the master at coming out on top of the fine margins.
But the more expansive football of the first half of the 2017/18 season, which ended in seventh place and a European tour, seems a long way away at the moment.
Bad injuries to Steven Defour and Robbie Brady rather curtailed that evolution, as Dyche looked for his side to look after the ball better, to be “fitter” with it, as well as without it - underlined by the superb 24-pass team goal that earned a 1-0 win at Everton.
He has long railed against holding a philosophy, of being a zealot to one style of play, and can’t understand what a ‘right way of playing’ is, other than playing to win.
He said last year: “There’s a balance.
“I want my team to win, and if we can’t, get a draw. If we can’t draw, at least play in a manner which was trying to win.
“If that goes wrong, then I get cross!”
Now, no one could accuse his side of not trying to win against Manchester United, but performances of late have seen his side’s effectiveness blunted somewhat, albeit his twin strike force Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes have both been carrying injuries.
So often, the Clarets’ defensive resilience ensures they stay in games - no Premier League side has more clean sheets this term - and it did just that at Turf Moor, with keeper Nick Pope largely underworked.
However, another error was punished, which tipped the scales in United’s favour, left back Charlie Taylor pickpocketed by Andreas Pereira right on half-time, leading to Anthony Martial’s opener.
And the visitors were able to nullify the threat of Wood and Barnes with minimum fuss, to register only a third shutout of the season, and first since September, with Marcus Rashford sealing the win in injury time on the break.
For my money, Burnley gave the weakest United team in a generation far too much respect in the first half, a side not blessed with pace, fearful of the Reds’ threat on the counter.
And while the Clarets huffed and puffed in the second half in an improved showing, only former United youngster Phil Bardsley could register a shot on target, comfortably saved by David De Gea, on the back of failing to register an effort of note at Goodison Park on Boxing Day.
Burnley’s football was somewhat pedestrian, again searching for guile and craft, the type of which often attracts the biggest fees in football.
That is part of the issue for the Clarets, that Dyche has turned water into wine in much of his transfer dealings, but he needs to be given the opportunity to go for more champagne tastes in the market.
Whether that will happen in January appears unlikely - sobering when clubs with far greater resources than Burnley often refer to the winter window as “difficult”.
However, recruitment, and rejuvenating what is an ageing squad, is going to be vital in how the club continues to inch forward, in terms of their brand of football, and in general.