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Holes in the squad
But do we need to #FreeTella?
Hello! The NNN newsletter has been awakened out of its slumber by the impending big KO. But, despite endless new wingers, there is still work to do in the window…
Holes in the squad
At the start of the summer, I would have identified central midfield and left-back as the two critical areas to address in the transfer window. So with only a few days to go until we take on Treble-winners Manchester City at Turf Moor, it feels more than a bit strange that we have not signed a single player for either of those positions yet.
Of course, the transfer window has a few weeks still to run and there tends to be a spike in activity as the deadline looms, but even with the Luton Town game being postponed next weekend, we have a few points to play for in the meantime.
I’ve had an attempt at putting together Vincent Kompany’s options across the squad and it shows plenty of depth in the attacking positions, but not so much elsewhere.
Let’s go through each position and see what we’ve got - and what we might need.
Goalkeepers: Trafford, Muric, Vigouroux, Franchi, Casper
Bart Verbruggen seemed to be an early target, but when Brighton pipped us to the Anderlecht goalkeeper, our attention swiftly turned to James Trafford. Raiding City for the second summer in a row, Trafford could become our club-record signing.
Although I agree with allowing Bailey Peacock-Farrell to leave, I’m not sure a new no1 needed to be a priority. Aro Muric got better and better as last season went on, leaving us with a highlights reel to remember. Muric deserved a crack at the Premier League.
He might yet get it. Muric outperformed Trafford during pre-season and is the man in possession. But even if Muric starts on Friday, I suspect Trafford will take over before too long. That feels harsh and, even if Trafford has huge potential - he is already being spoken of as a future England no1 (which has jinxed plenty of others in the past) - it is a huge fee for a player who has yet to ply their trade any higher than in League One.
Ex-Liverpool and Tottenham goalkeeper Lawrence Vigouroux coming in from Leyton Orient adds depth between the sticks so a loan move for Denis Franchi might make sense given teenager Charlie Casper has already been around the first-team squad.
Full-backs: Roberts, Taylor, Vitinho, Dodgson, Egan-Riley
Connor Roberts was arguably our best player after the World Cup but we have been linked with a string of right-backs, suggesting Kompany is not yet fully convinced.
Roberts has also featured at left-back during pre-season, showing our lack of options, while Dara O’Shea and Ameen Al-Dakhil provide further options on the flanks.
Ian Maatsen’s future at Chelsea still seems to be up in the air and there is speculation he could yet extend his Blues deal and go out on loan again. You would think we would be at the front of the queue, but at the moment we are having to wait.
That leaves Charlie Taylor as the only recognised senior left-back in the squad, though Owen Dodgson caught the eye with a fine finish in our win at Benfica.
Kompany’s reluctance to play Taylor was obvious last season and it is hard to imagine he will be more keen to pick him at a higher level this time out. While Burnley might not dominate the ball as much as they did in the Championship, the system requires pace and creativity from left-back, neither of which are particular strengths of CT.
Vitinho looks a more likely fill-in for Maatsen but a left-back must be a priority. Manchester United youngster Alvaro Fernandez is the latest name in the frame.
I’ve put CJ Egan-Riley here even though he can play anywhere in defence and in defensive midfield, but I’m guessing he will go on loan again, when fit, anyway.
Centre-backs: Beyer, Ekdal, O’Shea, Al-Dakhil
At the start of the summer, I wrote that much of our work in central defence would depend on what happened with loan stars Jordan Beyer and Taylor Harwood-Bellis.
Burnley moved quickly to convert Beyer’s loan into a permanent deal and I suspect he will be worth double, if not treble, what we paid in the next 12-24 months. Beyer has all the tools to succeed in the Premier League and he is obvious captain material.
Hjalmar Ekdal’s disappearance from first-team action during the run-in remains a strange one but the Swede is back and ready to compete for action alongside Beyer.
I’m a massive Ekdal fan. Burnley conceded only three goals in the nine games he started with Beyer after Harwood-Bellis went down with injury. For me, Beyer and Ekdal should be our first-choice pairing at the back for the start of the season.
Al-Dakhil has a sky-high ceiling but the City match in the FA Cup last season showed how much work he still has to do if he is to make it to the top. Al-Dakhil looked like a rabbit in headlights on that day - understandable, given his youth - and the Premier League could be sink or swim for him. AAD’s raw ability is not in doubt, though.
O’Shea’s arrival from West Brom might feel like a Sean Dyche signing but he has Premier League experience, which the squad as a whole lacks, and he is versatile.
Four centre-backs, plus Taylor as an emergency option, seems fine. But if Kompany wants the option to play three at the back at times, then we need another defender. I can only see Harwood-Bellis coming back if he will be a regular… but would he be?
Luke McNally has gone back out on loan to the Championship, where he will continue to develop, and Bobby Thomas has replaced him at Coventry City. By the way, that the academy is developing players who can be sold to Championship clubs for very decent money shows the investment made in that area is now paying off.
Central midfielders: Cullen, Cork, Brownhill, Twine, Gudmundsson, Bastien
Today’s news has us linked with Sheffield United midfielder Sander Berge and looking at the names above it is clear we need at least one signing in this area.
Josh Cullen is an injury doubt for the start of the season and we have basically no cover for him. Jack Cork is 34 and looked a bit off the pace at times last term, though his vast experience will be useful and we may need a double pivot at times.
Josh Brownhill had a great season in the Championship but didn’t really make his mark on the Premier League before relegation. Samuel Bastien isn’t good enough.
I’m not sure what to make of Scott Twine, who looked lightweight but produced a few magical moments last term. The Premier League would be a tough test for a player who was in League One a year ago. A loan spell in the Championship may suit him.
Kompany played a masterstroke moving Johann Berg Gudmundsson into the middle during the second half of the season, but can he impact the Premier League at 32? Gudmundsson’s chances of playing wide are surely slim after all the new signings.
Power and physicality are vital in the Premier League. I don’t see much of that in our central midfield group. We ended up being too lightweight in the middle of the park towards the end of the Dyche era. I hope we aren’t about to repeat that error.
The continued chase of Albert Sambi Lokonga, a flop at Arsenal who Kompany knows from his time at Anderlecht, shows the manager is aware of this glaring weakness.
Wingers: Zaroury, Benson, Redmond, Bruun Larsen, Koleosho, Churlinov
This is where it gets exciting. In Anass Zaroury and Manuel Benson, Burnley have a pair of wide players with the quality to win matches with moments of pure genius.
Zaroury was unstoppable before the World Cup; Benson was unplayable in the run-in. If they can hit top form at the same time, it could be something very special indeed. But Benson appears to be injured and has also been linked with a move away, which might help to explain why Kompany has been so keen to add more wide options.
Signing Nathan Redmond on a free transfer looks a no-brainer given his level of experience. More than 250 Premier League appearances, an England cap and the admiration of City manager Pep Guardiola mean signing Redmond makes sense. He can play on either flank, behind the striker or even as a false nine. Redmond probably offers more defensive diligence than either Benson or Zaroury. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up starting more matches this season than any of our other wide players.
Jacob Bruun Larsen is an intriguing signing. The Denmark international has yet to fulfil early potential but is another versatile option who will be handy on the bench.
Teenager Luca Koleosho has been getting rave reviews but will presumably be used as an impact sub, while Darko Churlinov’s illness means getting well is his top priority.
Andros Townsend has been on trial but I’m not sure where he would fit in, other than to add further depth (unless Benson is on his way out?). Every day continues to bring links with yet another winger, so I’ve no idea what VK has up his sleeve here.
Forwards: Rodriguez, Amdouni, Foster, Weghorst, Obafemi
Assuming we are going to continue with one central striker dropping deep as a false nine, five options looks to be more than enough after the signing of Zeki Amdouni.
The former Basel striker had a great campaign last term - he was the top scorer in the Europa Conference League, which might not sound much, but he scored against decent opposition like Fiorentina - and he is also an option in attacking midfield.
Lyle Foster has struggled to win fans over after his mid-season arrival, but I think he will surprise people this season. We will probably have to play more on the break than we are used to, which will make his pace an asset. Foster got better by the game last season and, while an early goal would help his confidence, so would our backing.
So it’s probably contradictory for me to hope a move is found for Wout Weghorst. I just don’t see how he fits into this group at all. If he can’t score goals at Manchester United, he’s not likely to score goals at Burnley. We should cut our losses on him.
That leaves hometown hero Jay Rodriguez, who I think some are forgetting about due to all the shiny new gizmos in the squad. Rodriguez might be 34 but I don’t think you can underestimate the importance of having a local lad in the side. Clearly you don’t just pick someone due to where they were born, but Rodriguez will give absolutely everything for Burnley. Could you say the same about Weghorst? Jay’s goal record in the top-flight is nothing to write home about - 44 goals in 237 Premier League games - but he played the false nine role to perfection before he got injured last season. I would start Jay on Friday night against City with absolutely no hesitation at all.
Michael Obafemi is another one who looks set to play an impact sub role primarily.
But do we need to #FreeTella?
A week on, I’m still baffled by the video that appeared on chairman Alan Pace’s Instagram last Monday. If you’ve not seen it, it’s still up - which tells its own story.
I don’t think it’s relevant his daughter apparently runs Pace’s Instagram. It wouldn’t still be live right now if he hadn’t given it some sort of green light to be put up.
At the time, I assumed the only possible reading of the video was that it was posted as a bit of ‘banter’, a precursor to an announcement of Nathan Tella signing for Burnley.
But as the hours and then the days passed with no news on Tella, it all looks quite weird. Tella then started for Southampton and scored - though a team-mate pinched it - suggesting that a move away from the south coast is not remotely imminent.
I think it’s dangerous to over-analyse anything on the internet and I say that as someone who considers themselves Very Much Too Online. I wouldn’t say it was particularly disrespectful to Southampton or even to Tella, but it is very odd.
I’m more interested in actual football than social media videos. I know, right!
Anyway, looking at our attacking options, I’m wondering if there is room for Tella. Don’t get me wrong, I love the lad to bits and haven’t forgotten his 19 goals last term.
We are not short of wide players, or strikers, or players to feature behind a frontman. Tella arriving would no doubt be a boost for fans, but where would he actually play?
Are you starting him on the right, over Benson? He looks better in the middle. Are you starting him as a striker, where he struggled in the demolition at Bramall Lane? Nope. Is there space for Tella to be the most attacking of a central three in midfield, playing off a central striker with the protection of Cullen, Cork, Brownhill, Berge or whoever behind him? That seems to be where Kompany sees Amdouni playing.
Tella was fantastic last season but the Premier League is another level. We’ve spent a fair few quid already this summer. £20m for Tella might be better used elsewhere, especially when gaping holes remain in the squad at both left-back and midfield.
Would Tella be worth all that money? Who are you most excited about seeing play this season? As ever, let me know in the comments, or you can reply directly to this email.