James Tarkowski in line to join elite Premier League group

If James Tarkowski completes Sunday’s final game of the season at home to Brighton, he will join an elite group of outfield players to have played every minute of this Premier League season.

James Tarkowski
James Tarkowski

Tarkowski has been ever-present in all 37 of Burnley’s top flight fixtures this term, as the club have secured a top 10 finish for the second time in three seasons.

And should the centre back complete the set, he will join defensive partner Ben Mee, who achieved the feat last term, and Jack Cork, who set the bar in 2017/18.

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Goalkeeper Nick Pope has also played every minute in the top flight this season, while Dwight McNeil has started every game, but missed 76 minutes on the way after being substituted.

Tarkowski is one of seven outfield players who could play every minute - along with Sheffield United’s George Baldock, Conor Coady of Wolves, Manchester United captain Harry Maguire, Declan Rice of West Ham, James Ward-Prowse of Southampton and Virgil van Dijk of champions Liverpool.

Coady, remarkably, is on course to achieve the feat for a second-successive season, having been one of three outfield ever-presents last year with Mee and Luka Milivojevic of Crystal Palace.

In 2017/18, Cork joined Maguire, again, Brighton’s Lewis Dunk, Zanka of Huddersfield Town and Alfie Mawson of Swansea as the only outfield players to play every minute.

Dyche feels it shows the level of his players’ professionalism: “I think Dwight has started every game as well, I think they deserve massive credit, all the players do, but to fulfil the task of a whole season is a real credit to their professionalism, consistency, the level of performance they’re at, and what it means to us as a group.

“It’s great to me as a manager if you can have, regularly, players playing lots of games every season.

“I was a footballer for 20 years, it’s rare you feel brand new, there’s often something you have to cope with, and the players learn that about their own bodies, their own mental approach, concentration levels, and the more experience you get with that, the better you can handle all of those challenges, other than the obvious, playing against bloomin good players opposite you.

“Your own professionalism, your own understanding of yourself physically, mentally and the demands of what you want to deliver, and I think that comes with experience as much as anything.“

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Mee might have added to his feat of last season but for a thigh injury late in the season, and the club have had a number of injury issues after the restart.

As ever, Dyche will look into the data and tailor his preparations accordingly: “After lockdown, we’ve probably had our hardest run in terms of fitness and injury, but the balance is, a number of players have played a lot of football this season.

“Maybe after lockdown, the amount of games, the shortened window to get truly fit, but then you could argue some of the players have been super fit all season.

“We continue to look at that and the varying ways we work and operate, just in case there’s anything we think can be tweaked or twisted to allow more players to deliver even more games.“