Are Burnley overly aggressive?

Plus: Dyche out-tacticked again

I’m sure you’ve all worked out why this week’s newsletter is a day late, so let’s crack on with looking at another Premier League defeat for Burnley.

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Are Burnley overly aggressive?

Burnley lost Monday’s game at Goodison Park thanks to a crazy seven-minute spell where they allowed Andros Townsend to look like Lionel Messi, creating the equaliser for Michael Keane, then battering the ball home from acres out to make it 2-1, before Demarai Gray capitalised on Burnley’s defence entirely giving up to seal the points.

But all the post-match chat was about a tackle by James Tarkowski on Richarlison.

The first thing to note is that neither the referee, nor VAR, saw anything wrong with this tackle. Despite loud protestations at the time, replays clearly showed Tarkowski did get the ball - and cleanly - even if he did then follow through hard on Richarlison.

Tarkowski is known for making strong challenges. He makes a tackle like this most weeks. But Tarkowski has not been shown a red card since 2015, when he was still at Brentford. You would think if he was as dirty as people claim, he would be dismissed regularly. In fact, he was only booked six times in 36 league games last season.

There is no doubt Tarkowski plays on the edge and he relishes the physical battle with attackers, just like his defensive partner Ben Mee. His tussle with Brighton striker Neal Maupay was great, with both players giving as good as they got. As it should be.

Here’s what the laws of the game say about tackling (hat-tip to Gary for this):

Any player who lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball from the front, from the side or from behind using one or both legs, with excessive force or endangers the safety of an opponent is guilty of serious foul play.

The first problem here is that the law, like too many of them, is subjective. “Excessive force” is open to debate and the referee evidently didn’t see it that way. Richarlison was actually absolutely fine, despite rolling around like he’d been shot (or hit by a pie thrown from the stands), so did Tarkowski’s challenge endanger him? Not for me.

Tarkowski’s tackle wasn’t even close to the worst one of the game. Josh Brownhill somehow escaped a card for a carbon copy of the tackle that left Harvey Elliott’s lower leg mangled - that was in the first minute. Everton midfielders Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure both had pretty bad ones later in the game as tempers started to spill over.

Clearly, there is a media narrative around tackling at the minute. It is widely reported that referees have been advised to use a “lighter touch” this season after VAR stepped in too often for relatively minor offences in the previous two campaigns. Many people have felt this is a good thing, but nobody wants to see players hurt. There is a balance.

Burnley somehow have a reputation for being a dirty team despite having not been shown a red card in the Premier League since January 2019 - a record run. Robbie Brady’s dismissal against Huddersfield Town back then also broke a period of almost two years since Ashley Barnes had been sent off in a game against Hull City.

Sean Dyche has always said he wants his team to be “firm but fair” and Burnley’s disciplinary record just does not suggest they cross that line on a regular basis.

Yet: narrative. Jurgen Klopp plays the media better than perhaps any manager in the game right now. When he complained about Burnley’s play being “too dangerous” and compared the Clarets’ approach to “wrestling” after the Reds won 2-0 at Anfield, he knew what he was doing. The media - and fans - picked up those lines and ran with it.

Richarlison is hated by Liverpool fans yet last night saw Reds supporters swearing blind that Tarkowski had not got the ball. The fact the ball ended up in the stand, behind Richarlison, made it pretty clear the defender had taken the ball, but whatever.

Someone even wanted to argue Tarkowski was not even going for the ball and was instead trying to hurt Richarlison. If that was the case, it’s amazing he won the ball cleanly, by accident. I’m sure a player as big and powerful as Tarkowski could do serious damage to an opponent if that was their intention. It obviously was not.

Much of all of this dates back to Joe Gomez breaking his leg against Burnley in 2018. Mee was not punished for that tackle either, just like he wasn’t for another challenge against Aston Villa that saw their striker Wesley suffer a serious injury. But football is a contact sport and players do get injured, sometimes very badly. It happens.

But Klopp and Liverpool fans have not forgotten that Gomez injury - from another clean tackle - and they are determined to paint Burnley in a negative light.

I actually think Barnes could have easily been sent off against Leeds and another referee might have taken a different view of Brownhill’s early challenge last night.

There is no doubt Burnley are now in the spotlight for this, with incidents such as Richarlison body-checking Mee completely ignored in contrast to Tarkowski’s tackle.

Our players need to be careful not to give referees a decision to make until all this dies down and everyone starts going on about something else wrecking the game instead.

Dyche out-tacticked again

Burnley have taken the lead in three out of four Premier League games this season and they have a single point to show for it in the table. That is… not great.

It is stating the obvious to say our plans for seeing out games are no longer working. Personally, I remain worried about the lack of protection for the defence when Jack Cork isn’t in the side. And the positional weaknesses of both full-backs is alarming.

We all know Dyche is quite rigid and sticks to the same tactical plan more often than not. But the really concerning thing for me after last night was his refusal to admit Rafael Benitez’s move to a three-man midfield was decisive. It is fair to say managers are not always going to admit they got something wrong in front of the TV cameras, but Dyche seemed adamant the comeback was more due to… I dunno… vibes?

Playing two in central midfield always risks your team being over-run. It was scary how easily Everton gained control after putting an extra player in there, with the Toffees having been pretty poor with their original starting formation - a change to a back three. Burnley were the better team for the first hour and deserved their lead.

But as we have in most games this term, we tired badly and the opposition took advantage. It’s easy with the benefit of hindsight, but Dyche probably should have reacted to Benitez’s change - it was not exactly out of nowhere, he was preparing his first substitute before the leveller - by withdrawing a striker and going to a 4-5-1.

I’m already bored of complaining about the poor substitutes Dyche is making, but Monday’s were probably the worst of the season yet. At 3-1 the game was lost, so there was no lower-pressure scenario to get Maxwel Cornet on the pitch. Using Aaron Lennon instead of a £13 million signing is such a Dyche thing to do. Matej Vydra must be wondering what he has to do to get a game the way Barnes is performing.

We lost against Brighton after Graham Potter’s tactical tweaks and we lost last night after the same. That’s six points down the drain due to Dyche’s (lack of) decisions.

Opposition view: Everton

Thanks to my ex-colleague Patric Ridge, a Toffees fan, for his view on the game:

Playing an ill-fitting 3-4-3 - or ill-fitting with their personnel available (James Rodriguez, anyone?) - most Evertonians would fully admit Everton struggled to assert themselves in the first half. A bright second-half start was immediately stymied by some poor defending and a quality delivery from Johann Gudmundsson, but Benitez has shown a willingness to change things up when required and it’s fair to say that switch to 4-3-3 caught Burnley cold.

Helped of course by scoring just before the change, a seven-minute blitz showed what Everton can offer going forward, and really the score could have been added to. Plus, it’s not every day that Townsend picks out his seasonal stunner. Crop up with another at Anfield please, Andros!

Typically worried when Burnley scored, only to be saved by the flag, and no Evertonian will ever feel safe again with a two-goal lead heading into stoppage time. But those final 30 minutes probably showed the difference between the sides in terms of squad depth. Burnley played well, but as expected a tightly contested match, and the Clarets can definitely feel hard done by not to have had a first-half penalty.

I haven’t even had space to mention Doucoure dragging Tarkowski down off the ball from a set piece in the box… and we’re the ones that get accused of wrestling!

On this week's podcasts

The main show reacting to Monday’s game will be out soon - in the meantime make sure you check out George’s chat with the author of a new book… called No Nay Never.

Quiz question

It’s back! Listen to the next preview show with Dave for the answers.

Much has been made of our excellent recent disciplinary record, with Burnley recently surpassing Ipswich Town's record of the most Premier League games without a red card. However, two Burnley players have been dismissed in Premier League games against Everton at Goodison Park - can you name them both?

Birthdays and anniversaries

Charlie Taylor will be 28 on Saturday - let’s hope Arsenal bring him a good present.

#OnThisDay in 2013, Junior Stanislas (<3) scored this belter of a goal against Rovers.

Tweet of the week

Million-dollar question, that…

Recommended reading etc

Back on the topic of Liverpool fans being very weird online, this is a fantastic read. Burnley have a similar smaller subsection - you can find them spamming the replies of club tweets with absolute nonsense. It’s bizarre, hilarious, and I both love and hate it.

I’m on this week’s EPL Round Table podcast - also available on Spotify and so on - talking about the managers in danger of being sacked and a four-team title race.


Last week’s article by Nate on Dwight McNeil as a no10 prompted lots of debate.

Firstly: we said Maxwel Cornet’s right foot is his stronger one. It’s not. Apologies.

Mark wrote in - thanks for the email:

Loved this week's newsletter the article about Dwight McNeil was an interesting read and can see where the writer was coming from about him becoming a no 10 I could easily see him grow into that role.

Fair point, but I think Wood is a mandatory starter. A few people pointed out that finishing is not Dwight’s strong suit. But getting into more goalscoring positions by playing centrally would surely only help him to improve in that department.

Comment below with any feedback, or your views, or tweet me @jamiesmithsport.


Thought of the day

Why should you never let a Burnley player walk your dog? They can’t hold a lead.

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