Sean Dyche and Burnley – Pragmatic, old-fashioned yet supremely effective

The Premier League is increasingly becoming a homeland for rags to riches stories that never cease to amaze many who are even remotely associated with the game.

These tales narrate the cases of small teams that won the hearts of fans, despite being clubs that have moved up and down the divisions in the English footballing landscape.

While these clubs came about only once a while during the old times, they aren’t a rare sighting in the current environment.

The journey of Bournemouth from being a bankrupt club in the fourth tier of English football to being a proper Premier League club is certainly remarkable, but the one that pertains to Swansea’s rise from nothingness to an established club is prominent too.

Not just them, but the story of Southampton too demands a special mention, and if there’s another side that asks for similar amount of recognition, it is Sean Dyche’s unpredictable Burnley.

The Clarets are currently 12th in the league and are probably well clear of the dreaded red zone.

Dyche’s men are just two points behind ninth placed Stoke City and have won many as 12 points more than 18th placed Hull, who are undergoing some sort of a resurgence under Marco Silva.

It isn’t just their position on the table that is impressive enough for a club of their stature and financial state, but their showings on the pitch are just as big a testimony to their abilities.

The recent 1-1 draw at Turf Moor against Antonio Conte’s high-flying Chelsea was a one that saw a side dominate Chelsea for only the second time since they have been on the ongoing blitzkrieg run at the top of the league.

While the first side was Tottenham, few believed Burnley to cause the Blues as much trouble as they did throughout the game. They were nullified aerially and physically, denying them space to work with in the final third.

Their direct approach of pinching goals from somewhere clearly seems to reflect the pragmatism that the side has always adhered to under Dyche.

Chelsea had as much as 71 percent possession during the game, but it was the Clarets who were first to every second ball and managed to dominate while keeping them away from goal.

Burnley won 16 aerial duels compared to Chelsea’s 14. And it isn’t just during that game that Dyche’s compact and resolute side succeeded in making the opposition look second best in a majority of aspects, but that has been Burnley’s story of the season.

All that has happened with a formation that has often been deemed as ‘outdated’ and a ‘thing of the past’- the 4-4-2. It is with this formation that Sean Dyche has reaped success since taking over from Terry Pashley in 2012.

It brings compactness to a side that isn’t the best in the league, but allows them to defend with three separate blocks.


The deployment of hardworking central midfielders in the 4-4-2 makes sure that Burnley always give an impression of being an old-fashioned, distance-covering outfit that is tough to break down.

Not just this, but the workhorses in the heart of the park allow for a quick transition from defence to attack.

Against Chelsea, the work-rate of Ashley Westwood and veteran Joey Barton played a vital role in keeping the Blues at bay.

Dyche’s men collectively covered 121 kilometres during the game and defended in numbers, denying the opposition any space to work with, and this was a prime reason for as to why Chelsea failed to muster a single shot on target in the second-half.

And that’s the style that Dyche has done very well with, be it the Championship or the slightly smaller clubs of the Premier League.

It is the physical nature of their play that has helped them average the most amount of aerial duels won per game this season- 22.9.

The amount of trust that Dyche places in hardworking, physically astute players is rather reminiscent of the days when a trip to Tony Pulis’ Stoke City seemed like a truly daunting task for even the biggest clubs in England.

The capture of Jeff Hendrick this past summer was enough to suggest the direction that Burnley were going to take this season and the signing of Steven Defour from Belgian giants Anderlecht made the intentions all the more clearer.

The duo, before the signing of the combustible and hard-tackling Joey Barton, were vital cogs in the wheel for a side that relied on the presence of players who could contribute in both sectors of play.

While Hendrick did take a game or two to adjust to the defensive side of the game after doing the attacking job more often than not at Derby, Defour settled in effortlessly into Dyche’s system.

Johann Gudmundsson was roped in from Charlton as someone whose versatility in the heart of the park and ability to play his heart for the side he plays would come in handy during what obviously is a long season.

The approach to player acquisition is a one that goes to prove how and why Dyche prefers putting the system first and it’s only after that he decides who to snap up and who not to.

Players know the approach that they must take when stepping out on the pitch and it’s that assurance that makes Burnley a side that can’t be beaten easily.

And the whole system, be it the formation or the players, revolves around that.


When it comes to being “old fashioned”, Burnley come close to being so in the way they defend too; their aerial ability allows them to defend narrowly and get rid of any troubles that come from wide areas.

More so, they haven’t got full-backs that bomb forward, unlike the modern-day ones who prefer marauding forward and contributing more in the attacking sense.

Matt Lowton and Stephen Ward aren’t those flamboyant players who will take defenders on and beat them, they will sit next to the centre-halves and stay deep, while the wingers will track back and do the ‘dirty’ job of dropping in to help the full-backs out.

Burnley’s attacking play oozes tradition too. Sam Vokes has adopted the role of being the good, old-fashioned centre-forward throughout his career and the usage of Andre Gray just behind him to link up the midfield the attack.

Gray, who managed to rack up 23 goals during Burnley’s promotion campaign last season, has scored six times. Vokes, on the other hand, has managed to find the back of the net five times.

What further establishes the belief that the Clarets could assume the form of the ‘next Stoke’ is their exceptional home form; they are currently fourth in the home form table, behind only Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea.

The crowd at Turf Moor has often acted as a ‘Twelfth Man’ to spur the side on and play with more venom and intensity than they have away from home.

Their away form has been a massive concern though, as Burnley have picked up just a single point during a hard-fought goalless draw at Old Trafford.

Fighting hard is something that their style is based on and even away, they have always managed to give the opposition a run for their money.

It isn’t pretty at all, but there are reasons why Sean Dyche has often been dubbed as ‘the Ginger Mourinho’; his pragmatism and no-nonsense approach to the game has made him and Burnley what they are today.

Their stature as a club makes sure that they have nothing to lose and everything to gain from whichever games that they play. And till the time they are no longer a small club, pragmatic football can well be appreciated as being “effective football”.

The Author

Kaustubh Pandey

20, Football Writer, CalcioMercato, ThePeoplesPerson, EPLIndex, VAVEL, InsideFutbol. Aspiring Football Journalist. The game's not about life and death, it's something much more than that.

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