Burnley boss Sean Dyche issues update on goalkeeper Nick Pope's progression
Burnley boss Sean Dyche has re-iterated the importance of entering the new campaign with a close-to-fully fit squad at his disposal.
The Clarets went into the previous season detrimentally light on numbers with key players — right through the spine of the side — absent through injury.
Captain Ben Mee, defensive partner James Tarkowski, midfielder Jack Cork, Icelandic international Johann Berg Gudmundsson and striker Ashley Barnes were all sidelined for the Premier League opener at Leicester City.
Jimmy Dunne — who signed for QPR last month — was handed his debut for the club against the Foxes while fellow Under-23 graduates Bobby Thomas, Anthony Driscoll-Glennon and Josh Benson were called upon to bolster the group.
Burnley’s problems escalated when ex-record signing Robbie Brady picked up a knock just before the interval at the King Power Stadium.
As a result, the Clarets collected just two points from their opening seven fixtures in the top flight, the worst start to a season in their history.
“It’s always about fitness and coming through injury-free so we’ve come through pretty much unscathed, which is pleasing,” said Dyche.
“The main thing after last season was to come through with bodies that are fit, as in physically fit, but also injury-free.
“We’ve done that so far and that’ll be important after all the challenges of last season.
“The players are looking fit and well at the moment, which is a key factor along with performance levels.
“It’s good to see that the squad mentality is intact because last season we had a number of injuries and everybody had to play their part. That’s important so I was really pleased with that.”
In comparison, the Clarets are in a much better position ahead of Brighton’s visit to Turf Moor on August 14th.
Goalkeeper Nick Pope — who ruled himself out of the European Championships following surgery on his knee — is being nursed back to full fitness and making good progress.
The Three Lions stopper is yet to feature in pre-season and remains a doubt for the game against the Seagulls, who ended his hopes of sharing the Golden Glove with Manchester City’s Ederson in 2019/20.
Dyche said: “He’s back on the training pitch; we’re just making sure that we can see his progression.
“It’s not really a case of ‘risk and reward’, it’s just a case of whether he’s fully fit or not.
“We’ve just got to make sure that the right protocols are followed, which they have been, and making sure that he’s feeling well, which he is at the moment.
“Then it’s just the timing of when he’s ready for some game time as well.”
Kevin Long and Dale Stephens won’t make it in time for the first day of term while Chris Wood reported back for duty at the Barnfield Training Centre yesterday [Thursday].
Burnley’s Player of the Year — and all-time record Premier League goal-scorer — captained New Zealand at the Tokyo Olympics as the OlyWhites were denied a place in the semi-final by hosts Japan, who advanced in a penalty shootout.
“Woody is returning back to us on Thursday,” confirmed Dyche. “I watched bits and bobs [of the Olympics] from a distance.
“I saw quite a bit of the game and the penalties pre-match when we were getting ready for the Tranmere game. Unfortunately it didn’t go their way.
“It’s shame for him and for them but good for us, in a way.
“He comes back and will be able to re-acclimate and get a bit of recovery before he joins in with us.”
Dyche stressed that there was “no news at the moment” in relation to potential incomings, but added that the search for new faces is ongoing.
The Turf Moor chief is more than aware that the squad is in desperate need for extra bodies, as he has been for some time.
Last season’s misfortune with injuries remains at the forefront of his mind, but the division’s longest-serving manager appreciates that the demands on his players won’t be as extreme this time around as the schedule becomes more normalised.
“We’ve got competition everywhere when everyone’s fit, but obviously we’re still a little bit short in the wide areas so we’re still searching,” he said.
“It [squad depth] is not at the back of my mind, it’s at the front of my mind because we’ve got to make sure the players are fit, strong, well.
“Hopefully the programme will play out a little differently - allowing a bit more rest and recuperation between games - because managers across the Premier League felt it had an effect on their players, with injuries etc.
“That’s out of our hands, but it’s likely to be a more normalised situation regarding fixtures. In the in-between we’ll get them ready for task and we hope that the players are taking care of themselves in the meantime.”