Burnley (A) Preview

Wigan Athletic’s run in doesn’t get any easier as we travel to table toppers Burnley in an incredibly difficult but must win game. With games running out for Latics to pull ourselves out of this mess it’s games like this that can really kick on a season. A positive result, even a draw, could be the catalyst for our survival bid.

We had another tough away game in midweek against play-off hopefuls West Brom, but this feels like a huge step up from that. Burnley haven’t been troubled by anyone in a long time and have an incredible home record so it goes without saying we’re massive underdogs here. But we were massive underdogs at Anfield in 2012, and at Elland Road in 2019…

The hosts are 17 points clear of 3rd so arguably it wouldn’t hurt them to lend us the 3 points in this one… in all seriousness they have a real chance of making themselves the best Championship team in history and complacency hasn’t seemed to be an issue for Vincent Kompany’s side at all during the season.

Latics Team News

This section of the match preview never gets any more simple to write! Just when it appeared we’d got players back to fitness Jack Whatmough suffers a muscle injury just before kick off on Tuesday night, forcing him to miss that game and more than likely this game too. Whilst it appears he’s past the recurring ACL injuries he suffered in his youth, the 25 year-old has picked up several niggles this season.

Callum Lang was the notable absentee in recent games but it seems like he’s back ready to take his place on the bench for this one. Whilst he’s been nowhere near his best this season it’s obvious that we lack his energy and speed at the top end of the pitch, and in a game where we’ll be doing a lot of counter attacking he could be vital.

Ben Amos will probably stay in goal despite another questionable moment against West Brom. For their goal he failed to deal with an effort on target well enough and served the ball up on a plate for Daryl Dike to head home. He made a few saves which show he’s still a capable goalkeeper but we need more than that right now. He’s just rather lucky there’s nobody better ready to take his place.

The Whatmough injury meant Ryan Nyambe was brought into the starting 11 on the left of the back 3, with Omar Rekik moving centrally. I don’t think Rekik suits being the central CB as he’s best when he’s carrying the ball out wide and defending in 1v1 areas, rather than getting involved with physical battles. Steven Caulker seems the obvious option to replace Whatmough, but maybe his comparative lack of mobility will cost him.

Wing backs James McClean and Tendayi Darikwa again showed glimpses of quality dotted around a lot of frustrating moments. A video of the pair of them overhitting crosses to each other is the latest popular clip on Twitter and it does show a big problem we have in those areas. In games like this our final third quality has to be spot on and they’ve got a lot of responsibility in that sense.

Christ Tiehi picked up a knock in the first half and was withdrawn at the break. It appears that he’ll be fine to play this weekend and hopefully he’ll recapture the form from games gone by. Last week he didn’t look his usual self so hopefully that’s past him now. Partnered with Max Power they need to be the driving force behind us at both ends of the pitch.

The front 3 of Keane, Sinani and Fletcher offered little in the first half as has been the case too often this season. Keane particularly looks a passenger in games where chances aren’t plentiful which suggests this won’t be a game suited to him. Sinani looked the most likely to create something but again struggled to do anything meaningful, a story that has been the case in most of his games for us.

The most dangerous attacking player was Josh Magennis in his 20 minute cameo off the bench. A couple of headers and just his general presence gave us something different in the closing stages and I wouldn’t mind seeing him given a go from the start. The facts are it doesn’t matter what combination of players we pick up top, we don’t have Championship quality options.

An Opposition View

As always I’ve called in the help of a few people far more knowledgeable about Burnley than myself to contribute to this section of the preview!

1) What a season it’s been for Burnley! Sitting pretty at the top of the league with promotion looking like a certainty even with so many games left to play. Can you just sum up what it’s been like to be a Claret this season?

“It’s been dreamland really, hard to describe considering the mammoth transition needed at the club. Sean Dyche’s 10 years over, £65m of debt with all our core players set to go. It’s a big ask to get it right and we’ve passed every test. We are going to make most of this season and enjoy it because we know that football can change so fast.” [@OfficialVizeh]

“This might be a bit of recency bias but I think it’s been my favourite season following Burnley, which says a lot considering the seasons we have had in the last 13 or so years. Not only have we been playing very well, the style of football we play is brilliant to and it’s a pleasure to watch. We’ve pumped so many teams this season too, that always helps especially when you cruise past two of your main Lancashire rivals 3-0 at home.” [@JoeTomRed]

2) Vincent Kompany has impressed a lot of people with the football he’s got his side playing, and has even been touted with moves to ‘bigger’ clubs. Are you surprised by how well things have gone so far?

“Our board trusted Vincent Kompany, who lets keep in mind is his first job in English Football, he’s was an unknown asset in the managerial world. Yet he’s got everything spot on. Recruitment to Gamesmanship to Man Management, he just oozes class and composure. He’s going to the very top, that I can guarantee, with or without Burnley.” [@OfficialVizeh]

“Sort of yeah – I expected him to do well but I’m surprised at how fast everything has settled in to place. We knew we had a big rebuild job this year and I expected us to start slowly because of it, and we kind of did but after 10 games or so we had clicked and in the middle of the season we were unstoppable, winning 10 games in a row and currently unbeaten since November. I thought we might be around 10th or so at Christmas time and then make a late charge when everything clicked. He’s a brilliant manager and I genuinely believe he’s going to the top.” [@JoeTomRed]

3) Turf Moor has been a real fortress this season and there seems to be a great atmosphere there every game. Whilst it’s not a fierce derby by any means are you expecting a lively crowd full of expectation on Saturday afternoon?

“Every game you’d imagine would be a sell-out, however it’s been like that for the majority of season. Burnley fans have been starved of pace, flair, creativity for so long under Dyche, with respect we dealt with the players we had. It’s just fun again, ballers like Anass Zaroury making fullbacks look silly with ease, every time. Vincent Kompany understands the power of our home and the fans reciprocate that.” [@OfficialVizeh]

“Yeah we will have a decent crowd, probably 18k+ depending on Away attendance could push 20k. But you’re spot when you say fortress that’s exactly what it is – we haven’t lost at home in the Championship since December 2015. We’ve had a few scares this season – mainly Watford at home where scored an 87th minute equaliser – but it’s a great run nonetheless.” [@JoeTomRed]

4) The squad you have to pick from would make any Championship club jealous, but who are the stand outs in your opinion that could be the match winners against Latics?

“Yeah I can’t lie it feels bad when speaking to opposition fans, as that’s been our most powerful asset, our strength in depth. I miss Benson very badly as I think him on his day is the best attacker in league. Tella will be electric, full of energy stretching the defence. Gudmundsson plays in the 10 and has become important on splitting teams open. Cullen is the heartbeat of the team, for me our best player, when you watch us just keep an eye on him cause he’s so vital in everything we do.” [@OfficialVizeh]

“Pick any of the forward lads really for match winners, you’ve got Anass Zaroury and Nathan Tella who are both excellent and play on either side of the front 3, and Ashley Barnes in the middle who might be a completely different type of player but has has a decent few months since November. The midfield lads are more than capable of chipping in with goals too, we will be without Josh Brownhill this weekend but with the likes of Johann Berg Gudmondsson and Scott Twine waiting on the bench they’re both more than capable of grabbing some goals.” [@JoeTomRed]

Tactical Talk

I’ll be honest, I’m glad I’m not Shaun Maloney right now. Planning how to make our squad of players beat a Burnley side unbeaten in 4 months and far and away better than anyone in the league doesn’t sound much fun to me. Quite frankly it’s going to cause me immense pain and fear writing eight paragraphs about it!

However, the one thing I’m clinging onto is that, statistically, we’ve given Burnley one of if not the hardest game of their season to date. Now I know the score line suggests the complete opposite but if you cast your mind back to the game you’ll remember they only had eight shots and six on target yet netted five times. We had 18 shots and scored once…

The 2.59 xG we registered against Burnley on that afternoon in August has only been bettered once by Sheffield United in the Blades’ 5-2 victory at Bramall Lane. That shows that we are genuinely capable of hurting them if we set up correctly. Kerr and Shinnie aside, everyone that played that day is still available to us so it’s not out of the question…

However, a lot has changes since then. Burnley have changed their system a little bit since then which has allowed them to keep far more control over games, and ultimately not concede so many opportunities. Their full backs caused us so many problems by being high and wide did leave space in behind them which we were able to exploit a lot.

Higher FBs creates a much more stretched pitch, and allowed Latics to dominate centrally with our superior numbers. On the day the reward was worth the risk, but in other games Burnley struggled here.

Nowadays they’re slightly more inverted, especially when the ball is on the opposite flank. This means they always have a back 3 in place as well as a slightly deeper midfielder covering in front, making them less vulnerable to counter attacks and able to control possession for long spells. It’s quite Man City like in that sense.

Blackpool managed to limit them by being very deep, very compact and very resolute. All words that have been used to describe us at times under Shaun Maloney, just not often enough recently. If we can let them play in front of us and allow them lots of danger-free possession that’s fine. It’s when they cut through us in and around the box that we find ourselves in trouble.

Our best chance of getting a result is limiting them in a similar way. It’s games like this where we need a quick attacker to pin their CBs back out of fear of the ball in behind. Whichever striker we pick they’ll know there’s no pace whatsoever and can camp inside our own half without the threat of a direct counter attack. We could do worse than name our fastest player up top, sort of like how we did at Elland Road in the ‘Gavin Massey game’.

As that’s something we don’t have we’ll have to think of different methods of attack. Set pieces will be important as will be crosses from deep, but none of that will work if we go behind early. It’s imperative this game stays level for a long time, because if we’re chasing the game they’ll cut us open with ease.

I hope I’ve not scared you too much with this analysis!

Final Thoughts

If we’d won the games we should’ve won this season this game wouldn’t really matter, but as it happens we’ve got to go to a ground where Burnley haven’t lost at this level for over 7 years and get 3 points…

The fact of the matter is we can’t expect to get anything here. A draw would be one of the best results of the season, but it still wouldn’t be enough in the grand scheme of things. We need wins and we need them quickly, and unfortunately because of the amount of opportunities we’ve wasted to get them it’s left us needing a victory at the toughest place possible.

Don’t write Latics off too soon though. Plenty have made that mistake before…

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