Football is always throwing up table-turning scenarios. It was at a very similar point last season, when Burnley made the trip to Molineux, having embarked upon and already completed their own European adventure. Burnley, preceded to slumber their way through 90 minutes which were entirely unreflective of the 1-0 scoreline.
Now before we delve into this, know that I’m not a subscriber to the cursed Thursday-Sunday schedule excuse that the media love to perpetuate. That said, we do seem to have a number of individuals suffering performance-wise. Diogo Jota’s goalscoring start to the Europa League has masked what has been some seriously off-colour performances. We all predicted that this would be the season where he would kick on an join the footballing elite, but with that expectation comes the promise of being a marked man. Teams aren’t allowing Jota time to build up a head of steam in is now familiar dribbling style, but he’s also just making bad decisions and having poor touches. His finishing has let him down on a number of occasions too, most notable against Leicester. It’s also obvious that this has had an impact on Raul Jimenez.
It’s quite clear why Matt Doherty isn’t up to speed yet, but he also needs games to build himself up again. He’s never been a player who reacts well to rotation. His is a slightly more awkward conundrum. The obvious answer is just to play Adama Traore until there is a break in the schedule and spend some time with Doherty but Nuno sees things differently.
Ruben Neves, wonderful goals versus Manchester United aside, has picked up where he left off in the league last season – a bit lacklustre and unable to stamp his authority on games. I do believe he’s slightly hampered by the belief that he should be scoring a screamer/making an assist every single game, despite the fact he’s our deepest midfielder and not in a position to do so. But he needs to add some maturity to his performances – he gives the impression he’s trying too hard at times.
Yesterday was clearly a game too far for the more senior Joao Moutinho and with Morgan Gibbs-White constantly flicking his way through football matches, our midfield missed an opportunity to control this football match. Wedded to the fact we were up against a front two who have performed admirably so far this season and we were always going to be in for a tough game. Ashley Barnes has seemingly dumbfounded defences for the last couple of years, but he’s a b*****d to play against and has underrated ability.
Going down 1-0 relatively was the absolute worst scenario to be facing, which may sound obvious, but is especially difficult against a Sean Dyche team – which brings me to the crux of this week’s blog.
I have never ever seen an opposition manager harangue a set of match officials in the way that Dyche, his players and his staff did yesterday. But by the same token, he was happy to allow his players to buy free kicks from the opposition on a regular basis, throwing themselves to the ground at the first hint of contact. This, from a man who was preaching about diving last week, about how ‘the game is in a terrible state in regards to blatant acts of cheating’.
In exactly the same press conference he said this:
Conveniently covering his own team’s arse with the gamesmanship comment there. But where’s the line Sean? When does encouraging contact from the opposition in order to fall over become diving? Because let’s be honest, it’s exactly the same thought process – you’re conning the referee. What about a general exaggeration of an injury a player may have sustained from a challenge? That’s another you can check off the list from Dyche’s Ten Commandments of Gamesmanship. This is all before you get to the time wasting from midway through the first half. Oh, I have to take my hat off to Ben Mee actually offering himself for a short goal kick every time Nick Pope set himself up in the second half, this was a particularly novel time wasting tactic.
Now I’m definitely not trying to suggest Burnley do away with some of their methods – this is a team with limitations who are doing all they can to survive in a cut-throat world, which is admirable. But the sanctimony Dyche speaks with in the media about all manner of subjects, despite the fact his team are happy to employ some of the shadier parts of the game, is deplorable. At times you couldn’t take your off this bald, ginger man just pacing the technical area, on the case of the fourth official as if he was directly responsible for him not being able to see the kids after his divorce. Tone it down Sean – you’re becoming the ultimate hypocrite.
Overall, this wasn’t a deserved point and our own gaffer should be called into question. I believe our own team selection gave Burnley the opportunity to go on the front foot in the first half and we couldn’t pin them back for long enough. Jonny aside, we had nobody truly putting their defence on the backfoot. Jota and Jimenez were busy in non-threatening areas, but Doherty was unable to be the outlet we required him to be. Adama Traore’s performance in midweek warranted some level of reward and I can’t help but think Dwight McNeil’s performance against us last season affected this selection. This, in spite of the fact that Traore was our most threatening player that day as well.
He may be our most prominent threat and while he is improving, this weekend showed exactly why he can hinder us in equal measure. Burnley simply tripled up and rotated fouls on him, happy to defend the ensuing free kick with Moutinho off the field. We quickly find a way to be one-dimensional when chasing games against deep defences. This isn’t something new.
Nuno tried by going back to a 3-4-3 towards the end and Pedro Neto looks capable of being an impact player, but there’s a distinct lack of invention, which needs to be addressed. Sooner rather than later.