B grade for Burnley's window

Plus: Would McNeil fit as a no10?

Hi everyone - today I’m delighted we have someone other than me writing here.

Nate has sent in an article about Dwight McNeil - please do get in touch with feedback and comments by commenting below or tweeting me @jamiesmithsport and, if you want to contribute something to the newsletter, definitely get in touch too.

First: a look at the transfer window.

B grade for Burnley

The first newsletter we sent, a few weeks ago, was quite critical of new chairman Alan Pace. Burnley’s transfer activity had been very below-par, with just two new arrivals at the time, but it is worth remembering he had asked supporters to be patient.

In the end, the Clarets wrapped up the window with five new faces after the late signings of Connor Roberts, Aaron Lennon and Maxwel Cornet were confirmed.

Cornet represents a genuine coup. Not only does he give Sean Dyche lots of options in a few positions, he provides some much-needed star power to a stale squad. He will get bums on seats inside the ground - and then off them when he gets on the ball.

I do think some people have gone slightly overboard with their summaries of the window as a whole, though. Everyone knows Burnley still lack a bit of creativity and targeting Ryan Christie was a planned move to address that. But Christie opted for Championship side Bournemouth instead, which is clearly less than ideal. Christie evidently felt the Cherries were a better fit and would perhaps give him more regular starts, but it isn’t ever a great look to miss out on a target to a team a league below. I’m not sure there was that much in deadline-day rumours about a move for Ross Barkley.

Some also reckoned Burnley could have done with a new striker. I don’t think that was ever likely with four senior strikers already at the club, plus Lewis Richardson who is widely expected/hoped to break through in the coming years. Unless one left - there was chat about Matej Vydra - there was no way another striker was going to come in.

Of the five signings, only Cornet is an immediate upgrade on the current XI. Roberts will presumably take over from Matt Lowton at some point, but given he is still recovering from a groin injury that might not be for a while. Nathan Collins will be hoping for cup runs so he can develop a partnership with Ben Mee for when James Tarkowski leaves next year. Lennon and Wayne Hennessey are emergency back-ups but Burnley now have multiple good options in most areas, as my Excel skills show:

Keeping star players is always important, though. It is easy to forget that this is still probably the top priority for a club like ours. Despite being linked to Everton and Aston Villa, Dwight McNeil remains a Claret. Tarkowski has at least another season at Turf Moor, during which Dyche can try to persuade him to stay on. There appeared to be little interest in Nick Pope, again among the outstanding goalkeepers in the league last season, perhaps due to the injury that ruled him out of England’s Euros squad.

I asked on Twitter for fans to offer a grade for the window and the consensus was a B.

I think that’s right. To get an A, Christie or someone similar would have had to come in, with perhaps the Dyche contract also signed, and maybe Tarkowski committing too. But a B, in Pace’s first summer window, is a big upgrade on last year’s farce.

Perception is important too. Landing Cornet changed the mood music and with the squad now having plenty of depth, there is a lot more positivity. That’s despite Burnley having only one point from three games, surrendering leads in both home matches.

Newcastle United actually had a slightly higher net spend than Burnley, but their fans remain in uproar (Newcastle fans are stuck in a near-permanent state of uproar, to be fair). Of course, big buy Joe Willock was on loan last season and they didn’t add the squad depth we did, but the difference in reaction to similar spending is interesting.

That Arsenal have spaffed well over £100 million net on players, yet still look awful, just goes to show there is a lot more to building a squad than writing big cheques.

Now, over to Nate with some thoughts on a possible change of tactical shape.

Would McNeil fit as a no10?

The just-closed summer transfer window brought some much-needed youth and looks to have given Sean Dyche some real squad depth. A new midfielder to dictate attacking play was not among the incomings.

However, I’m here to make the case that Burnley might already have the no10 they need: Dwight McNeil. As Jamie wrote in last week’s newsletter, the addition of Maxwel Cornet gives Sean Dyche a viable option out wide. Shifting McNeil centrally and replacing him with Cornet could provide a boost to the Clarets’ attack. 

If Dyche opted for 4-4-1-1 with Cornet replacing McNeil on the left, he’d be adding a winger who could pick up McNeil’s defensive responsibilities as well as one who can cut inside onto his stronger right foot, giving Charlie Taylor room to continue his overlapping runs on the left. McNeil has all the tools to be a great fit in central midfield too. 

McNeil has been an outlier under Dyche, seemingly the only player given the creative license and freedom to make things happen with the ball at his feet. During the 2020-21 campaign, Burnley attempted and completed the fewest dribbles in the Premier League. However, according to Football Reference, McNeil attempted 114 dribbles, completing 66, ranking him 11th in the Premier League in both categories. Charlie Taylor’s 46 dribble attempts were the next highest in the squad. 

Clearly, Dyche trusts McNeil with the ball at his feet. His ability to push the ball forward on the ground has been a focal point in Burnley’s tactical plan to progress the ball into the final third of the field.

However, because McNeil often begins his runs from deep, he hasn’t provided much of an option to receive forward passes in dangerous areas. Pushing McNeil higher and more centrally should put him in a position to receive the ball in dangerous areas, rather than having to bring it with him.

In more dangerous areas, McNeil should find the openings to take more shots himself as well as to set up team-mates for better chances. 

Defensively, the move makes sense as well. McNeil tracks back, as does any midfield player in Dyche’s squad, providing cover for Charlie Taylor behind him. Cornet, with experience playing left-back for Lyon, should be able to fill that role.

As Dyche has introduced a more aggressive, targeted press in the final third, much of that burden fell on the front two in his 4-4-2 as well as McNeil. Last season, McNeil led the Clarets in overall pressures and was third in pressures in the attacking third, trailing only Chris Wood and Matej Vydra. 

McNeil should be able to step into the pressing responsibilities Dyche expects for his second forward. Additionally, reducing McNeil’s responsibilities out wide would give him more freedom to find pockets of space to run into, with or without the ball, following turnovers.

I don’t know about you, but the idea of McNeil picking the ball up and running at a back-pedalling centre-back sounds like a pretty good option on the counter. 

Dwight McNeil is pretty clearly Burnley’s most valuable player. Tailoring the system to put him in situations to thrive should be a no-brainer. 

Opposition view: Connor Roberts

Thanks to Swansea fan Guto:

On this week's podcasts

The main show reacting to the Leeds game is out and there’s a short update about the newsletter - by me! - which is also available to listen to. Although you’re already reading the newsletter, so that one isn’t really aimed at you… Also, listen out for George’s chat with the author of a new book all about the Burnley-Rovers rivalry.

Birthdays and anniversaries

Patrick Bamford turned 28 yesterday and marked the occasion by failing to score against the mighty Andorra. Oh well.

#OnThisDay in 2003, Burnley won 2-1 away to Stoke City thanks to first-half goals from ex-Manchester United men David May and Luke Chadwick.

Tweet of the Week

No winner this week. Sorry. Do better tweets this week please everyone. Thanks.

Recommended reading etc

Friend of the pod Mike wrote this blog with his views on the window. It’s a good point he makes about Pace seemingly taking the lead on the deal, rather than Dyche, who we all remember getting out the omelette pan for Joey Barton. Hopefully not a bad sign.

Cara also pointed this out:

Ashley Barnes is basically always at risk of being sent off, but that’s a fair shout too.

No Barclays this week so I watched LFG, a new documentary (available on Sky) about the US women’s national team and their fight for equal pay. Well worth your time. Chris Wood played a role in New Zealand giving their women’s team equal pay.

Letters

This was a good question from Diane, to which I didn’t really have an answer… but Cornet didn’t travel to Mozambique, which is on the red list, so it seems like he will be OK to avoid the dreaded quarantine and might be available to face Everton next week.

Reply to this email with any comments or feedback, or tweet me @jamiesmithsport.

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Thought of the day

How on earth did Nick Pope not play against Andorra?!

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