Burnley midfielder Ashley Westwood among star-studded company

His name was something of an outlier in a llst of the most progressive passers in Europe.

By Chris Boden
Saturday, 1st January 2022, 3:00 pm
Ashley Westwood
Ashley Westwood

But there it is - according to @Squawka statistics, the most passes into the final third in the continent's top five leagues in 2021, by outfield players, came from Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold (456), Sergio Busquets of Barcelona (435), Burnley's own Ashley Westwood (418), Joshua Kimmich of Bayern (400) and Juventus' Manuel Locatelli, also with 400.

That is some company for the Clarets midfielder to be in.

And for boss Sean Dyche, it is a mark of the former Aston Villa man refusing to play it safe and simple, as he was criticised for at times at Villa Park, and taking more risks to be more expansive in his passing.

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Westwood is Burnley's leading assist-maker with three, with more goals he was pivotal in creating not counting as direct involvements, such as his glorious clipped pass at Chelsea, which saw Jay Rodriguez head across goal for Matej Vydra to equalise.

Five years since he arrived as a somewhat unheralded deadline day signing, Dyche is delighted with what he has offered to the side: "We like what Westy has developed into.

"We spoke to him when he came here about...they call it recycling in modern football, and he'd got too used to that and stopped putting the ball at risk.

"I wanted him to put the ball at risk - he's got a good passing range, lovely technique, really good touch, and I'm pleased he;s done that and added to his game, that freedom to put it at risk and make a mistake.

"You can't learn to make game-affecting passes without being willing to make mistakes.

"I prefer to see my players extend themselves and make mistakes at times.

"It gets frustrating now and again when they make a wrong decision, but I prefer the players to express themselves and put the ball at risk, and try those passes, the delicate ones that make a difference, and he's adapted to that really well, and that stats back that up.

"He should be really pleased with himself over his career, he's developed a long way the last few years, he came in here as an older pro, could have been set in his ways, but he hasn't been, he's opened his mind, he gets turned more, gets forward more and puts that ball at risk more, which is exactly what I want him to do."

It remains to be seen who partners Westwood at Leeds on Sunday, with Josh Brownhill not expected to return due to Covid protocols, while Dale Stephens came on for Jack Cork at Manchester United, for his first Premier League appearance of the season, and caught the eye with a busy display, winning a number of challenges and using the ball well.

Dyche said: "I thought Dale came on and affected the game.

"He's hungry because it's been an up and down time through no fault of his own, he needs more game time probably, but he showed he's willing to affect it - he got a couple of good tackles in, broke play up and used the ball wisely.

"We want that from all the players, to put the ball at risk.

"If you're a Premier League player, arguably one of the highest levels in the world, you should be able to pass the ball more than 20 feet, in my opinion!"