Poor recruitment, avoidable blunders and tactical naivety: Where it's all gone so wrong for Burnley in the Premier League

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It’s almost exactly a year to the day that tens of thousands of jubilant Clarets took to the streets to celebrate Burnley’s Championship triumph.
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'It should hurt': JJ Watt reacts as Burnley's relegation is confirmed following ...

Twelve months on, the contrast in emotion couldn’t be any starker.

Optimism was high ahead of Burnley’s top flight return. Given they had just stormed to the title with 101 points, perhaps that was to be expected.

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Some got a little carried away, forecasting top half finishes and what not. Club insiders, as a result, were keen to play things down. They knew it would be a difficult season and a 17th placed finish would be deemed, rightfully in hindsight, a big achievement.

While they wanted to temper expectations, knowing just how big the gulf between the top two divisions is, even they couldn’t have foreseen just how badly it would go.

Simply not good enough

Context, as always, is key – and we’ll get onto the reasons why it’s gone so badly later on – but the numbers don’t lie. In fact they make for pretty depressing reading.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 11: Vincent Kompany, Manager of Burnley, looks on after the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Burnley FC at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 11, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 11: Vincent Kompany, Manager of Burnley, looks on after the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Burnley FC at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 11, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 11: Vincent Kompany, Manager of Burnley, looks on after the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Burnley FC at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 11, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

With one game still left to play, Burnley have won just five matches out of 37. The last time they came down two years ago they managed seven. Of that five, only two have come against sides other than Luton Town and Sheffield United – the two following them down to the Championship.

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Keeping just two clean sheets all year long won’t do much to help your case either. Neither will dropping an eye-watering 27 points from winning positions.

That, at least, suggests Burnley have been in winning positions quite often, which can be seen as a positive. But the alarming ease in which they throw points away points to a flakiness and an inability, through inexperience and naivety, to see out games.

You could point to this weekend’s Tottenham game as a microcosm of that but in truth this game told us little about Burnley’s season at large. The Clarets produced a valiant effort, even giving themselves a slimmer of hope by taking a first-half lead, but you never truly felt a surprise victory was on the cards. Spurs subsequently fought their way back and won it late on, but even a draw wouldn’t have been enough.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 11: Dara O'Shea of Burnley shows dejection after the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Burnley FC at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 11, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 11: Dara O'Shea of Burnley shows dejection after the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Burnley FC at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 11, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 11: Dara O'Shea of Burnley shows dejection after the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Burnley FC at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 11, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Vincent Kompany’s men haven’t beaten a single side in the top 13 of the table, so the idea they were going to beat Tottenham – an albeit out-of-form side, but one still in with a slim chance of qualifying for the Champions League – always felt unlikely.

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Burnley have also failed to put together back-to-back wins all season, so confidence of beating Spurs and then Nottingham Forest on the final day also had to be low.

A measly 24-point return from 37 games is the only indication you need to prove Burnley just haven’t been anywhere good enough.

Even though the Clarets deserve credit for their recent resurgence, losing just one in eight games between March and April, in truth they would have long been out of the race had the points deductions for Everton and Forest not been factored in.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 11:  Wilson Oodert of Burnley reacts after a missed chance during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Burnley FC at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 11, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 11:  Wilson Oodert of Burnley reacts after a missed chance during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Burnley FC at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 11, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 11: Wilson Oodert of Burnley reacts after a missed chance during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Burnley FC at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 11, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

There was a lingering hope, rather than expectation, that Burnley could set up a winner-takes-all showdown with Forest on the final day, which certainly would have made for an exciting spectacle, but alas it was not to be.

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Confirming the inevitable

In some ways, there’s a sense of relief that Burnley have finally been put out of their misery. It’s not like relegation has come as a surprise, they’ve been inside the bottom three all season.

Their opening fixtures were cruel, throwing up games against Manchester City, Tottenham, Aston Villa, Manchester United and Newcastle inside the first six. While five defeats predictably followed, it was the nature of the defeats that caused the most alarm.

Burnley looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights. They were under-cooked and under-prepared. Frankly, they were miles off it.

Kompany started the season wanting to play the same way that worked wonders in the Championship. The results were disastrous.

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Burnley's English defender #03 Charlie Taylor reacts at the end of the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Burnley at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, on May 11, 2024. Burnley were relegated from the Premier League after a 2-1 defeat against Tottenham on May 11, 2024. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)Burnley's English defender #03 Charlie Taylor reacts at the end of the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Burnley at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, on May 11, 2024. Burnley were relegated from the Premier League after a 2-1 defeat against Tottenham on May 11, 2024. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)
Burnley's English defender #03 Charlie Taylor reacts at the end of the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Burnley at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, on May 11, 2024. Burnley were relegated from the Premier League after a 2-1 defeat against Tottenham on May 11, 2024. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)

Outside observers who don’t watch Burnley regularly will accuse Kompany of being too stubborn and not changing his ways. While Kompany deserves criticism for how this season has unfolded, that particular assertion is unfair.

The Clarets did adapt, first learning to at least make themselves competitive before eyeing results on a more consistent basis. The problem was, by the time those results came, it was far too little, too late, and even then they were still found wanting in both boxes.

Avoidable mistakes

Kompany can, however, be accused of sticking with James Trafford for far too long. While Arijanet Muric has made some high-profile blunders since taking the number one shirt, he has – by and large – been a noticeable upgrade. It’s the biggest blunder Kompany has made, given it was such an easy one to fix.

I still maintain Trafford will go on to be a top goalkeeper and enjoy an excellent career, but it was simply too early for him.

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Did he even need to be signed in the first place? It felt so unnecessary after Muric had finished with a deserved spot in the Championship’s Team of the Season.

Recruitment, it has to be said, is the most common theme that pops up when you ask Burnley fans what went so wrong this season.

Almost £100m was forked out during the summer yet the returns haven’t borne fruit. Dara O’Shea, Sander Berge, Luca Koleosho (before his injury) and Wilson Odobert have done well, but that’s only four players out of 15 signed before a ball was even kicked. So what of the other 11?

Were so many new signings required in the first place, when last season’s crop perhaps deserved a chance? Perhaps the likes of Manuel Benson and Anass Zaroury wouldn’t have made the step-up, but they deserved the chance to prove themselves.

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Burnley went down the avenue of buying young, which I don’t necessarily have an issue with. But it was evident from the off they were TOO young, with that naivety shining through in some of their early displays.

Simple and avoidable mistakes have also been a running theme, a costly one too. The Clarets also struggled to get to grips with opposition counter-attacks early on and have consistently looked susceptible from set-pieces.

The frustrating thing is, in recent weeks, Burnley have actually resembled a decent top flight side. It took them long enough, but supporters have at least been able to identity with performances from March onwards.

The chances are, this is a team that is going to have to be ripped apart once again, with cash required to make up for the shortfall in TV revenue.

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Thankfully there is at least a core to depend on, a luxury the Clarets didn’t have last time around, so optimism of an instant return is justified.

But it’s also a missed opportunity for Burnley, a painful lesson they must learn from. Otherwise this season will be looked back on as a costly mistake.

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