Sean Dyche has praised the impact of Ashley Westwood, who has emerged as a strong candidate for the club’s Player of the Year award.
Dyche signed Westwood for £5m from Aston Villa on deadline day in January 2017, but the former Crewe Alexandra midfielder has had to be patient for his opportunities at Turf Moor.
He made seven starts over the remainder of the 2016/17 season, and only 10 last term, coming into the side when Steven Defour was ruled out for the rest of the campaign in January 2018.
However, with Defour still returning to fitness at the start of this term, Westwood grasped his opportunity and has made 36 appearances in all competitions so far.
Dyche, asked whether the 29-year-old was showing why he signed him, or had developed into a better player, said: “I’d like to think a bit of both, I think we signed him because he was someone we thought could be effective within the group, obviously.
“I’ve always thought of his character down the years, and willingness to work at his profession, and with him coming in slightly more rounded, I don’t know if it’s literal coaching development, but the environment and collection of people around him, the culture we set here - maybe that’s guided him down a different path.
“But he’s having a very strong season and very strong second half without doubt, and enjoying it.
“He’s another reaping the rewards, he came back super fit last pre-season, he’ll certainly keep going.
“He can cover the ground, and continues to do so, with Corky and a number of others, but statistically very high performer.
“So I think it’s a mixture, his own development, from his knowledge of the game and continued learning, and the culture and environment we set, has combined nicely.”
Made captain by former Clarets centre back Steve Davis - Mark One! - at Crewe, Westwood joined Aston Villa after a move to Swansea fell through, and at Villa Park he was compared to Michael Carrick by Tim Sherwood, who said: “He’s the sort of footballer I like.
“He's not going to score you a bag full of goals but if you analyse him he passes the ball forward more than most. He slides it in between the midfield, gets the No 10 on the ball.
“He passes it so quick the commentator does not have time to say his name. That's what I like. He's the Michael Carrick mould of a player and I think he can get better.
“He's one of my favourite players.”
And Dyche added: “Oh he can play, he’s willing to cover the ground and can do, super fit, but he can play. He’s good technically.
“He’s got that ability to do the simplest thing and make it look very easy - a lot of very good players have that, where a fan will go ‘oh it’s just a simple pass’, but when you’re in the game, you’re thinking, ‘it’s not simple, what he’s just done there’, the touch, the turn, the clarity of the next move...he does that well.”
Westwood is level eighth in terms of assists in the Premier League this season, boasting, with seven, as many as Bernardo Silva and more than Willian, and Dyche smiled: “You said that, before I put him in that company!
“I didn’t know the assists stat actually, it came up after his assist last Saturday.
“But he’s having a strong season, and especially strong second half. Others have had a quiet start and are coming on strong, but he’s been there all season, even in the harder beginning of the season, searching for the better performances, and some have got stronger and stronger.
“He’s part of a group who finish strong, there’s statistical proof. It doesn’t guarantee results, but we finish the season strong every year since I’ve been here.”
Dyche feels he has a good unit in central midfield, even with Defour’s continued absence: “You can’t underestimate the work Corky does as well, Jeff has played in there as well. I’ve always thought we had a good group in there, Jeff’s done a great job, we ask a lot of him, but he’s got that clear-mindedness. You could ask him to play anywhere and I think he’d say ‘okay’.
“He’s got a very good desire to play football, and play team football.
“There’s been a number of players, but they’ve got to keep going, the good thing about having a season like we are having, as odd and twisty-turny it may be, is that you know from the beginning of the season you can’t take anything for granted because you’ve seen that side of it.
“So when it comes your way a bit, you think ‘we need to be on top of our performances’.
“I don’t need to tell them that, they know.
“They’ve self-learned that you have to be on top of your performances, and that’s a very collectively strong mentality, when it’s reinforced from doing it, not just the coaching staff saying it, you’ve been through it.”