TALKING POINTS: West Brom 0, Burnley 0
Burnley claimed their first point of the season at the fourth attempt on Monday night as they drew 0-0 at West Brom.
That was enough to climb off the bottom of the Premier League table, moving up to 18th, in the first goalless draw of the season to date.
The Clarets had the better chances to win the game, with Ashley Barnes twice forcing saves from Sam Johnstone, while Chris Wood headed the best opening of the game against the top of the bar.
BACK TO BASICS
Burnley claimed a first clean sheet of the season so far, and looked far more like themselves, although there remains a distance to go before they are back to the levels we know they are capable of.
But this at least looked like the sort of game where the Clarets so often come out on top of the fine margins.
They looked solid at the the back, with Nick Pope not overly stretched, making a couple of saves, but ones you would expect him to.
And Burnley carved out openings, particularly in an improved second half display - on another day, you would expect Chris Wood or Ashley Barnes - or both - to put their chances away.
Sean Dyche’s side had a spell at Newcastle last time out when they turned the screw and equalised, but then fell away after making it 1-1.
At The Hawthorns, they again put the hosts under the sort of pressure that suggested a goal was coming, but were unable to take advantage.
However, importantly, they kept the door shut at the other end, and a point in the Premier League, especially away from home, is not to be sniffed at.
Yes, West Brom may be newly promoted and also looking for a first win like Burnley, but ask Chelsea how easy it is to go there - Frank Lampard’s expensively-assembled side trailed 3-0 before fighting back to draw.
THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD
One very clever social media post from the club had Burnley keeper Nick Pope warming up next to the West Brom banner “The Lord is my shepherd” - a Pope and a prayer. West Brom fans supposedly started chanting the hymn at one game at Everton in the 1970s in response to playing on a Sunday.
Pope claimed a 27th clean sheet in 77 Premier League appearances - a superb record, and a good response to his last Clarets outing when he endured a rare off night at Newcastle United.
He has since picked up his third England cap, and another clean sheet, against Wales, and can do no more at present to push his claims to be Gareth Southgate’s number one.
Jordan Pickford made a number of fine saves in the Merseyside Derby on Saturday, but was fortunate two VAR calls got him out of jail.
While Pickford has yet to let his country down, albeit he wasn’t faultless in conceding the penalty which led to Denmark’s winner last Wednesday night, he increasingly looks an accident waiting to happen, and you have to hope that accident doesn’t occur when it really matters, in the Euro 2020 finals next summer.
Pope may be picked up for his ability with his feet, and there is much room for improvement in that area, but he is Mr Reliable.
Dyche used to refer to Tom Heaton’s clean hands, and Pope is very much of that ilk.
His ability to take pressure off defenders by claiming absolutely everything sent into the box is second to none, his reactions and shot stopping are first class, and he generally brings an air of calm about him.
He will be very hard done by, if the current situation continues, that he isn’t given a run in the England side.
MCNEIL REDISCOVERS HIS MOJO
It may not have met with the universal acclaim, giving the timing on a barren domestic deadline day, but securing Dwight McNeil to an extended contract, to the summer of 2024, with the option of another year, was great business by the club.
And McNeil seemed to rediscover his mojo at The Hawthorns, after a start to the season where things hadn’t quite clicked for him, in a side that has struggled.
McNeil had the beating of West Brom right back Darnell Furlong from the off, and when he drifted inside, it seemed he could beat players at will.
The final ball wasn’t quite there, with a number of over-hit crosses, but his ability to slalom past defenders was hugely encouraging, and he might have had a goal himself after one surging burst, dragging a shot wide after combining with Ashley Barnes.
Bigger tests will come, but while McNeil can always produce key moments even when not at his best, to see him in this sort of form can only be to Burnley’s benefit.
Watching some of the reaction to Virgil van Dijk’s unfortunate cruciate knee ligament injury, the analysis of what he gives Liverpool often used the word ‘control’.
Van Dijk always appears in control at the back for Liverpool, and while I am not comparing the two - albeit he and van Dijk were statistically the best two centre backs in Europe last season - James Tarkowski also gives that air.
He is still playing his way back to full match fitness, but Tarkowski looked like he strolled through Monday night‘s game at The Hawthorns.
Dyche said afterwards: “Tarky will continue to get sharper and fitter” - which only shows the levels he is capable of hitting when fully fit.
He certainly looked like he could shift up a gear or two as and when he needed to against the Baggies, and his presence in the heart of the defence gives you that insurance.
We may have come through a transfer window affected by the coronavirus pandemic, albeit not much less was spent than usual, but I find it absolutely staggering not one club was prepared to pay the going rate for a centre back who arguably should be a first pick for the England side, never mind scrambling to regain a place in the squad.
Depending which vintage you are, Erik Pieters is swiftly becoming the new Andy Farrell or Graham Branch - relied upon by his manager to do a job in whatever position he is selected in.
Having grown up in Dutch football, where players are encouraged to play in a variety of positions for their tactical understanding of the game, the Netherlands international has proved a priceless addition to the Burnley squad.
He has played in his natural left back role, but, particularly since Project Restart, he has been tasked with playing further forward, on the left and right of midfield, drifting inside and showing he could play centrally as well if required.
And with Phil Bardsley isolating after testing positive for coronavirus, and Matt Lowton still out injured, Pieters was pitched in at right back, up against the Baggies’ £18m winger Grady Diangana - a player Hammers players and fans were so disappointed to lose over the summer.
But Diangana was a peripheral figure in the game, as Pieters stuck to his task, showing just how good a professional he is yet again. A manager’s dream.