McNeil is outgrowing Burnley

Plus: wouldn't a cup run be nice?

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Burnley were fairly decent in a 2-0 loss at Liverpool. But one man caught the eye…

McNeil is outgrowing Burnley

I’m starting to look forward to Dwight McNeil moving on from Burnley.

Hey, come back, I’ve not gone mad. No madder than usual anyway.

It’s just… it’s just McNeil is already far too good for Burnley. Obviously, we can’t afford to lose him right now, especially given Erik Pieters is, incredibly, our back-up winger on both flanks at the minute, but it’s becoming clear he is outgrowing Burnley. Fast.

McNeil was absolutely superb for about an hour against Liverpool, before tiring later on. He always seems to relish facing Trent Alexander-Arnold and again won that personal battle hands down, beating the England right-back on countless occasions.

He had an early shot cleared off the line, set up Chris Wood with a typically precise cross to force a smart close-range stop from Alisson, and could have had a penalty when a desperate Alexander-Arnold barged him over in the box. All in the first half.

McNeil has a good partnership with Wood but few others in our team are on his wavelength. Charlie Taylor just makes the same run over and over again and delivers a handful of decent crosses a season. Nobody breaks from midfield for McNeil to find and, unless Matej Vydra plays, there are no good runs in behind the defence either.

Burnley’s defensive structure makes it almost impossible for McNeil to have an impact for the full 90 minutes. Hardly any other Premier League teams play a 4-4-2 with the wide players asked to go up and down the flank all game now.

That’s for an obvious reason: Premier League football is too physically demanding for wingers to be both a team’s primary creative talent, as well as acting as an auxiliary full-back when their side is defending.

Some football fans who don’t watch Burnley often (let’s be honest, would you, if you didn’t feel you had to?) point to McNeil’s average returns in terms of bare numbers.

From 98 Premier League games, just seven goals and 16 assists is not special. But context matters. Burnley are usually among the lowest-scoring teams in the Premier League and while Wood is good for 10-15 goals a season he is not hugely prolific. McNeil’s defending is not great - though he did produce a fine clearance against Liverpool - yet he spends much more time than he would like in his own half.

Data analysis, as well as the eye-test, suggests McNeil’s stats are not truly an accurate picture of his performances since first breaking into the Burnley team as a teenager.

That’s from a while ago, but it puts McNeil in truly elite company. It is easy to imagine what he would be able to produce in a side where he had a more clinical striker to serve, a complete full-back behind him and fewer defensive responsibilities. Sure, you can say any player would improve in a better team, but with McNeil it is so evident.

His potential is massive but can he fulfil it at Burnley? The right move will be vital. Everton have been linked, but Michael Keane has not had the smoothest ride since swapping Turf Moor for Goodison Park, though the Toffees have had about 17 managers in the last few years. The goal he scored at Goodison last season showed what he can do from a number 10 position, a role he is unlikely to play at Burnley.

I’d love McNeil to spend his whole career with us. But it isn’t realistic. After a handful of games, it was clear he would eventually outgrow the club, but it’s happening rapidly.

Wouldn’t a cup run be nice?

Burnley’s EFL Cup record in the last eight years: lost to Manchester City after two wins (one of those on penalties); lost at home to Sunderland; lost at Burton Albion (!); lost at home to Leeds, on penalties, after one win; lost at Accrington Stanley (!!); lost at Port Vale (!!!); lost at home to Sheffield Wednesday. Since 2013, two wins in 90 minutes.

Though we’ve at least generally lost to much better teams - City have knocked us out in two of the past four seasons - our FA Cup record in recent years is also very poor: just two appearances in the fifth round in the Dyche era, leading to home defeats to Lincoln City and Bournemouth - rubbish performances in ties we ought to have won.

It’s embarrassing, really. Dyche will rightly note Premier League survival is the priority but the teams he has put out in cup competitions have often been a joke.

Burnley obviously don’t have a big squad but the hardy fans making a midweek trip to Newcastle on Wednesday deserve to see better than yet another limp, predictable exit.

And if chairman Alan Pace wants Burnley to be “the UK’s favourite underdog” then long cup runs are one way to build the profile of the club on a more global stage.

Opposition view: Liverpool’s midfield struggled

Thanks to Tomas from Totaal Liverpool (er, that’s a Swedish site fyi…) for his views:

I think we had a decent game, but our midfield struggled and couldn’t really dictate the game the way that I hoped. We were clinical when we had our chances and the back four looked solid.

I don't see us as [title] favourites but I think we have a really good squad, with Van Dijk back and both Matip and Gomez fit we are a different team than last season and it feels like many have forgotten that this team ran away with the title before corona. I’m a bit worried about what will happen during the African championship, because it will be tough without both Mane and Salah.

On this week's podcasts

Natalie and the gang are recording later today, so the podcast reacting to the Liverpool game will be out once it’s been edited in all the usual places.

Preview show with Dave ahead of the Leeds game should be out on Friday as usual.

Quiz questions

Two questions as usual, one easy and one harder. Answers on the preview pod.

  1. Which player scored winning goals for Burnley against Leeds United in victories at Turf Moor in both of the Clarets' recent promotion seasons - 2013/14 and 2015/16?

  2. Last season, the matches between the two teams were played behind closed doors, but who were the two managers, the last time Leeds United came to Turf Moor for a top-flight match in front of a crowd?

Birthdays and anniversaries

Ian Moore turns 45 on Thursday. This feature makes me feel old, I might have to bin it.

#OnThisDay in 2017, Burnley beat Blackburn Rovers 2-0 in the EFL Cup. We might not win often in cups, but that one was definitely worth the wait.

Fantasy football

The NNN PL fantasy football league is back. Here's the league code: 7ixae7.

Captain Salah blanked for me (and millions of others) this week, so a below-par score beckons unless Antonio and Cresswell bail me out tonight. Come on you Hammers.

Mushy Hanson and D Hunter are co-leaders of the NNN league on 176 points.

Tweet of the Week

Recommended reading etc

In case you were wondering where I get the birthdays and anniversaries stuff, it’s just all in my head as I’m a genius… nah, it’s actually from Dave’s amazing stats resource.

Not BFC-related, but this is great from Liverpool on “rent boys” chants v Chelsea:

And highlights of the Liverpool game, just in case you’re a masochist… lots of people seemed to think the second goal was poor, but for me it’s just a quality team move.

Letters

Re: last week’s thought of the day about the (not very) big screen, Cara tweeted:

Nah, I didn’t. I tried to watch the replay of Tarkowski’s goal from the CFS and couldn’t even see who had scored it - I’ve got lasered eyes and couldn’t make anything out. So I gave up looking at it. Now there’s a matching structure in the opposite corner, wouldn’t it make sense to have the screen located on that one, where more fans could see it? And maybe buy one bigger than a 32”…

And Ant wrote in - this definitely counts as a proper letter. I’m counting it anyway.

Sorry Jamie, not a proper letter, just adding to the congratulations for starting this newsletter and thanks especially for taking a clear stand on taking the knee. It’s depressing that our club is associated with racism, but it’ll only change by being robustly and consistently called out. 

Thanks, Ant. It was good to see Ben Mee speak out about it this week too. ICYMI:

"[It was] disappointing to hear the booing," said the skipper. "There was a lot of applause as well after it, which was good to hear.

“I don't know how many times we need to reiterate as players the reasons why we're continuing to take the knee. It gets to the point where if you're booing, it doesn't look good on those individuals that are booing.”

Let’s hope the response to the players taking the knee is very different on Sunday.

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Thought of the day

What’s the logic of a second goalkeeper on the bench rather than another youngster?

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