Burnley off to a flying start - Chris Boden’s match verdict

Ashley Barnes celebrates his second goal
Ashley Barnes celebrates his second goal

Last season, for a variety of reasons, it took until the halfway stage before Sean Dyche’s side found their identity.

But Saturday’s opening day display against Southampton at Turf Moor bore the manager’s name right through it, like a stick of rock.

The Europa League commitments, injuries and other factors saw Burnley only pick up 12 points from the opening 19 Premier League games a year ago.

They were transformed over the second half of the campaign however, and Dyche said something to me on Thursday morning which struck a chord: “One thing we learned last year, was we went back to that simplicity over the second half of the season and had a better half in terms of points and goals.

“At the end of the day, I like keeping it out at one end and scoring at the other!”

Simplicity would suggest a lack of subtlety and craft, of playing direct, no-nonsense football.

Far from it.

Dyche and his team are far from one-dimensional, and certainly not deserving of the “anti-football” tag put on them by David Luiz, and gleefully, sarcastically sung from the stands at Turf Moor.

Simplicity is similar to another word Dyche likes to use - clarity.

Clarity is a powerful tool for any footballer, having a clear idea and plan.

There was that clarity to his players’ performances from Boxing Day onward, and they have carried that on in pre-season, on to Saturday.

You can spend as much money as you want, and, often to Burnley fans’ chagrin, the club often can’t, or won’t, loosen the purse strings.

It isn’t a competition, however, as Aston Villa could discover, like Fulham last season.

There is so much to be said for players who are well coached, organised, and know their roles to the nth degree, and, more often than not, Dyche’s players show they know exactly what is required, regardless of who starts.

Last season, Dyche was looking to rediscover the right formula, tinkering with the personnel and even his favoured system more than ever before, especially in December when he used three centre backs for the first time in over six years at the helm.

Burnley came through that fog and have not looked back.

Saturday’s win means they have picked up 31 points from their last 20 Premier League games, having lost their last three last term once safety was secured.

They have got back to doing what they have done all through Dyche’s tenure, getting on the right side of the margins more often than not.

As Dyche said after the game: “I think there is an intent about the group. The Premier League is a tough league, and you are always looking to push the odds in your favour, and it is a great start point if you have a fully fit group of players, who are very motivated.

“We’ve worked as hard as we can in the market with our resources, which we always know is difficult, but I think we’ve found a good balance to get the team with a competitive edge.”

Despite the scoreline against Southampton, this was a tight game, right in the balance until Ashley Barnes rammed the opening goal past Angus Gunn in typical fashion just after the hour.

It looked a case of who nicked the first goal would surely go on to win, and Burnley, as ever, found a way.

It wasn’t pretty, but in the conditions, with an awful, swirling wind and incessant rain, the Clarets adapted and mixed up their play.

Barnes twice got on the end of assists from debutant Erik Pieters, the first, merely helping the ball on with the outside of his left foot, only for Jannick Vestergaard to misread the flight, with Barnes seizing on his mistake, controlling instantly and lashing home.

The second came from a more measured outswinging cross, which Barnes latched onto to send a side-foot volley inside the far post.

Johann Berg Gudmundsson put the icing on the cake with a sublime finish after his own press forced another error from a crumbling Saints backline.

Burnley, as per Dyche’s mantra, having scored at one end, kept the ball out at the other, with Nick Pope only really tested once, in the first half, as he touched over a fierce effort from Southampton’s only attacking threat on the day, Nathan Redmond.

The Clarets, who faced more shots on goal than any other side in the top flight last season, looked back to the side which keeps teams at arm’s length, restricting the quality of their chances.

As one former Burnley manager would say, one swallow doesn’t make a summer.

And Dyche was eager to impress that there is a long way to go, especially when you see trips to the Emirates and Molineux next up, before the visit of the champions of Europe.

A biggest opening day win since 1966, against Sheffield United - which, coincidentally was goalless at half-time - was a dream start.

But you get the impression that Dyche and his players will ram a few pre-season predictions of their demise down everyone’s throats again.

Bear in mind the result was achieved with a bench boasting the likes of Jay Rodriguez, Ben Gibson, Jeff Hendrick, Aaron Lennon and Joe Hart, with Danny Drinkwater, Charlie Taylor, Matej Vydra, Robbie Brady and Steven Defour not even in the 18, there is quality and depth at Turf Moor.

The Premier League should underestimate them, and Dyche, at their peril.