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Premier League 2021-22 preview No 5: Burnley | Burnley

Guardian writers’ predicted position: 16th (NB: this is not necessarily Will Unwin’s prediction but the average of our writers’ tips)

Last season’s position: 17th

Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker): 750-1

The plan

One could be forgiven for thinking Burnley would have plans to look upwards after five seasons in the Premier League, but the strategy will be to reach 40 points and work from there.

Last season began with two points from their opening seven games after a summer when the only signings were the £1m midfielder Dale Stephens and the third-choice goalkeeper Will Norris on a free, while the club awaited a takeover from ALK Capital. This time around only the defender Nathan Collins and keeper Wayne Hennessey have arrived, the latter on a free.

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Collins, a 20-year-old signed from Stoke, is certainly a step up from what was available to replace Ben Mee and James Tarkowski, whose absence was key to thei wretched start to last season, with Phil Bardsley and Kevin Long poor imitations. Collins has potential to improve and could be a sign of a new policy to recruit younger players with long-term prospects.

The Burnley starting XI is robust and knows how to get the job done but problems come when a key man is missing, with the bench last season one of the league’s weakest. Dyche will hope to invest more of the owners’ money but he will sign only those who have the attributes to make a difference and, more importantly, the characteristics to settle into a tight-knit squad who have been together for a number of seasons. Equally salient for Dyche will be keeping the integral components of his side, with Tarkowski in the final year of his contract and Dwight McNeil attracting interest from Premier League rivals. Finding replacements would be complicated for a side built on a tried and tested formula.

Nathan Collins, a signing from Stoke, should give Burnley better cover in central defence.
Nathan Collins, a signing from Stoke, should give Burnley better cover in central defence. Photograph: Alex Dodd/CameraSport/Getty Images

The focus is on signing competition for McNeil and Johann Berg Gudmundsson because it was plain Burnley lacked impetus off the bench when needing to change a game last season. Many players have been linked but Dyche will be frustrated by the lack of business. They missed out on Ashley Young to Aston Villa after holding talks with the winger, much to the club’s chagrin. Background work is being done on other potential targets but they will need to move quickly to avoid missing out on players who could make a real difference and irking the manager more.

Potentially more interesting than watching Burnley creep up to 40 points will be how things change off the pitch. The owners are improving the football structure from coaching to recruitment, with artificial intelligence helping the search for talent. An app sourced 28 players from around the world to be invited on trial. The Under-23s and youth sides are witnessing an overhaul as Burnley enjoy a much-needed refresh after moving the academy from category three to one status, a big jump even for a Premier League side. Turf Moor has been spruced up and given a lick of paint as they prepare to welcome back fans to their ageing stadium.

Although there is plenty of change, the one thing the owners want to make sure continues is the presence of Dyche, another with less than 12 months on his deal. The manager has been linked to a number of posts in the past and the slow-moving nature of transfer business at Burnley may prompt him to start thinking about a move away.

The manager

After almost a decade at Turf Moor, it is fair to say we know what we get with the gruffly voiced Dyche. The 50-year-old has attracted interest from other clubs but has stayed faithful. He spent press conferences in lockdown trying to alleviate boredom by discussing lookalikes, but his team are somewhat less entertaining and more built for efficiency. Dyche knows how to get the best out of his players and ensure they keep giving it their all, through repeating the same drills and sticking to a style that has kept Burnley above the precipice for the past five seasons. Sharing a flat with his assistant, Ian Woan, has strengthened the relationship rather than damaged it – they even go for a weekly Thursday night meal when they treat themselves to a glass of wine each.

Key player

Ben Mee missed the opening six games last season, when they picked up one point. Over the summer the captain marked 10 years with the club and he has helped mould the team. The centre-back sets the example for the rest to follow. He is one of the league’s most committed players, has made the most of his natural talent and uses intelligence and dogged determination to stop the opposition from scoring.

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Ben Mee halts Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah in May.
Ben Mee halts Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah in May. Photograph: Robbie Stephenson/JMP/Shutterstock

The owners

ALK Capital is less than a year into its tenure , so the jury is still out, especially as Covid has kept fans at arm’s length. Although the American investors arrived in December, no players were added in January to a struggling squad looking over their shoulder at the relegation zone, but the purse strings have been loosened slightly with the hope of more to come. The chairman, Alan Pace, earned kudos in the town and further afield for criticising the concept of the European Super League. “The six Premier League clubs taking this step have turned their back on our moral duty as custodians of the game to protect English football,” Pace wrote in a letter to fans.

Euros factor

Matej Vydra, the Czech Republic striker, was the only member of the squad to make it to the Euros. Nick Pope would have been England’s second-choice goalkeeper had injury not ruled him out but no others were particularly close. Vydra managed 35 minutes in three substitute appearances, including the defeat by England at Wembley, as his country reached the quarter-finals, only to lose to Denmark in Baku.

We’ll be singing

“In our Lancashire homes, we speak with an accent exceedingly rare, the longside of Burnley will always be there, in our Lancashire homes.” The fans have been kept at home for 16 months, apart from a few thousand let in to Turf Moor for Liverpool’s visit in May. Mee said he struggled without fans because games did not have the same buzz, so they will be welcomed back with open arms, but their planes will not.

Back to Turf Moor

The good: If you reach the top of the James Hargreaves Stand then you get a wonderful view of the rolling hills.

The bad: Fans paying for planes to fly overhead, albeit the last time was during an away game at the Etihad.

The crest

Frankly, the designer has gone for a confusing mix of insects and animals, with bees, a lion and a stork represented. There is even a hand between the apoidea, possibly representing the club’s sturdy defence or, more accurately, the industry of Burnley and Padiham.

Trending topics

“Which game in April will we reach 40 points?

“Who will we lose to in the FA Cup fourth round?”

“Who will Sean Dyche be linked with next?”

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“How many headers will Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood win today?”

The mascot

Bertie Bee once rugby-tackled a naked streaker, who ended up somersaulting to the ground.

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