Can Sean Dyche’s Burnley upset the odds and again claim a top-10 Premier League finish? - Chris Boden’s match verdict
Elton John is well known for a number of melancholy tracks amid his remarkable catalogue of work.
And the Hornets’ honorary life president had a good excuse to wheel out some Sad Songs on Saturday night, as his beloved Watford were ultimately well beaten by former boss Sean Dyche’s Burnley.
The Clarets chief is currently filling the hours driving between his Northamptonshire home and his work base listening to the former Reginald Dwight’s autobiography on audio book, voiced by Sir Elton himself and Taron Egerton, who plays John in the Rocketman film.
Dyche afforded himself a smile after the game: “I am listening to Elton's book on my audio book at the moment. He used to talk to me a lot when I was here, he is mad for it.
“He used to ring me all the time as a manager and I still get a text every now and again out of the blue with things like Europe. I doubt it (I will get a text tonight). He is probably busy though!”
Dyche’s Clarets were somewhat out of tune in the first half at Vicarage Road, but were very much on song in the second, despite being far from note-perfect.
As Dyche himself accepted after a second-successive 3-0 victory - and third of the season to date - sealed a first away win of the season: “I thought it was a fair reflection of the West Ham game, but today it didn’t feel like a 3-0. Watford gave as good as they got, but key moments were the thing.”
Without ever fully functioning as a cohesive attacking unit, Burnley scored three times away from home for the first time since April, when their last away win came at Bournemouth.
And they could have had several more, having hit the bar, squandered a one on one and forced a couple of desperate interventions.
That side of their game is hugely encouraging. As Dyche noted after the 4-2 home defeat to Chelsea, they are creating more and better chances in the Premier League nowadays.
Over the calendar year, they have outscored Spurs and Manchester United. Only this season’s top four have scored more, as well as Arsenal, who, with the lethal firepower at their disposal, only have three more.
Much of that is down to one of the best strike partnerships in the division. Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes, have scored 34 goals in the 38 games they have started together, and have also found the net when the other hasn’t started.
Neither, you could say, were able to dominate the Watford back three at any stage, but both have added that clinical edge to their finishing. Wood had one chance - goal. Barnes then won and converted a penalty. And Jay Rodriguez came on for Wood and was desperately unlucky not to score past his former West Brom teammate Ben Foster.
The pair will be the first to note the contribution of Dwight McNeil and Ashley Westwood, whose set piece delivery is devastating, and Ben Mee and James Tarkowski are also important at dead balls, the pair looking like scoring or assisting with each game, as they work themselves into space time and again at the back post.
Only Bournemouth have scored more goals from set pieces this season - many from inventive training ground manoeuvres, which we saw in his brief spell as Burnley boss.
While Burnley have become a goal threat to be taken seriously at this level, much of their success since promotion in 2016 has been based on that solid defensive framework.
And while they have not been able to match the miserly form which led to a seventh-place finish two seasons ago, in terms of goals conceded, only Leicester have more clean sheets this season at the time of writing.
They are getting back to the way they restrict the number and quality of opposition chances, with Nick Pope making two saves from Gerard Deulofeu that you would expect him to make, while being otherwise as unemployed as he was in Kosovo with England.
Much of that was down to the way his back four read the play, cut off the space and made blocks and interceptions, and won headers, but much was down to his clean handling and ability to take the pressure off by completely dominating his area from crossed balls.
There is no keeper better in that respect at this level - one of the reasons he is back to being a regular with Gareth Southgate’s squad.
As Dyche often says, it is simply about keeping it out at one end, and putting it in the other.
And Burnley are very good at the simple things.
They may be close to last in the running order on Match of the Day most weekends, but the fans aren’t complaining as they sit sixth in the table ahead of Manchester United’s trip to Sheffield United.
Dyche wasn’t biting when asked about the possibility of a second top-10 finish in three seasons, but over an impressive 2019, they would be 10th from the 31 games played this year, and their form this season suggests there is no reason why they can’t again beat the odds and secure a place in the top half of the table.