Top of the league
Plus: What to do with Westwood
A fantastic weekend win over Swansea City means Burnley made it to…
Top of the league
I had a feeling Swansea would be a good game for us, simply because they would try to play football rather than be spoilers. In hindsight, they should have been spoilers.
Burnley were sensational. After a weirdly slow start when we barely had a kick, the team found new attacking gears. It was easily our best performance of the season.
Jay Rodriguez could have had a hat-trick, Jack Cork ran the midfield and Taylor Harwood-Bellis didn’t put a foot wrong, but Nathan Tella was absolutely unplayable.
The Southampton loan star might have missed out on registering either a goal or an assist, but he caused Swansea issues every time he went anywhere near the ball.
Tella looks too good for the league and with Rodriguez proving to be the 15-20 goal a season striker everyone thought we needed to sign, everything is looking pretty rosy.
The pleasing aspect for me is it has been successive clean sheets as well. Burnley have struggled to keep teams out all season and defensive resilience is normally the foundation of any promotion challenge. Burnley are tough to beat, but too many 1-1 draws were at risk of costing us come the end of the season. 1-0 wins are priceless.
Swansea were rotten, by the way, but Burnley deserve plenty of credit for that too. Swansea simply couldn’t escape our press and we forced countless passing errors.
That’s not to say it was a perfect performance. Swansea should have scored - a free header from a set piece was straight at Aro Muric and showed the continuing clear weakness in our game - and we arguably should have hit a more emphatic scoreline.
But 4-0 against a team that was on a winning run is extremely pleasing and the fact Burnley have gone top despite playing well in only a handful of matches is ominous.
I said recently that the league is there for the taking. We just need to grasp hold.
What to do with Westwood?
Nate’s article last week got me thinking about how Ashley Westwood might fit into the team. The poll I posted on Twitter gave a fairly conclusive result, to be fair:
Westwood will start off on the bench, at least initially, as he recovers full fitness after a long spell out anyway. But a guy with almost 300 career appearances in the Premier League is not going to be twiddling his thumbs in the Championship. He’s just not.
So I guess that begs the question of whether he has a future at the club, at least in the medium-term, with the January transfer window starting to appear on the horizon.
Josh Cullen hasn’t hit the heights of his debut and he seems the most Westwood-ish of our midfielders. I don’t think Cullen is doing anything extra Westwood couldn’t. Yes, he is younger, but the experience of Westwood can also count for an awful lot.
If - and this is a big if given Westwood’s age - the 32-year-old gets back to his best then I think he certainly pushes Cullen hard for his place. Westwood is a bit under-rated by fans because of the way Sean Dyche asked him to play, hitting endless hopeful channel balls. Jack Cork is undroppable and I don’t see us changing from the two sitting midfielders system, which is the obvious place for Westwood to fit in.
There’s also Josh Brownhill to consider. Brownhill is having a good season as one of the more attacking midfielders but if Scott Twine ever gets fit, that looks like his spot.
It’s all good options for Vincent Kompany - and a far cry from the Dale Stephens days.
Mark wrote in with his thoughts on Westwood’s potential return to the squad:
I really don't see him getting in the team as a starter, the midfield partnership of Cork and Cullen is solid and are playing well together.
Cork seems to bring the best out of Brownhill and keeps him calm unlike Westwood who seems to get him wound up, and he gets booked. We saw this last season with Brownhill and Westwood yet when came in he was not as mouthy or caused trouble. So, I can't see how he will fit into the starting line-up.
I guess it’s a thought experiment until the point Westwood is available anyway. But we haven’t rotated Cork-Cullen much - the Republic of Ireland international has not yet missed a single minute of action - so Westwood gives us that option at least.
That’s it for this week. Big week with two matches on the road coming up. Now Burnley are top, have your hopes for the year shifted? Is promotion now expected?