Top tackler Dwight McNeil becoming a more complete player with his work against the ball

You would expect Dwight McNeil to be towards the top of the Premier League statistics in terms of his crossing numbers.

By Chris Boden
Saturday, 27th November 2021, 10:30 pm
Dwight McNeil
Dwight McNeil

And, indeed, the Clarets wideman is - fourth, behind Matt Ritchie of Newcastle, Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold and James Ward-Prowse of Southampton.

Everyone knows the quality the youngster - who turned 22 on Monday - possesses with that wand of a left foot.

But, it is the ugly side of the game where he is showing the improvement in his capabilities.

Sign up to our daily Burnley Express Today newsletter

Wingers aren't renowned for their hard work against the ball, but the former England Under 21 international is something of an anomaly among the Premier League stats for tackling.

Among all the full backs and defensive midfielders, McNeil is joint-fifth for tackles won with Pierre-Emile Højbjerg of Sunday's opponents Spurs, with only Allan of Everton, Spurs' Emerson Royal, Tyrick Mitchell of Crystal Palace and Christian Nørgaard of Brentford with more.

McNeil hasn't all of a sudden morphed into a midfield enforcer of course, it is more to do with his pressing, and the amount of times he wins the ball high up the pitch, and boss Sean Dyche said: "I want him to press like that, it's something he continues to add to his game.

"He had a quieter start to the season than normal, but I think he's found his feet and I'm really enjoying what he's doing, I commend him all the time about the team play he puts in.

"We know he's got quality, but the team work ethic he's got has been absolutely excellent, certainly over the last run of decent performances.

"There's still more to come from him, but he's working really hard for the team and that's an admirabe quality.

"Woany always says to the wide players, you can have times where you drift a bit, waiting to deal with the ball, and you can get hungry to do something every time, but you've got to do the simple things well.

"That can be a real shift for a wide player. You've got to do the team work.

"Unfortunately for Woany, he had the quality and didn't do the team work, but Dwight has got both!"

He added: "He sees it well, we've coached him a little bit, but he sees the picture very well, the oressing picture, he's brave with his pressing, he sets off ready with his body language, saying 'if you give it, I'm going all the way'."

And McNeil feels the improvements in the defensive side of his game are making him a more complete player: "We look as well when we get the opportunity to press from the front - once it starts from our two front men and the widemen - but I just try and put myself in the best position for the team in possession as well as out.

"I know how important it is for us out of possession, but it's just understanding myself more as a player and what the teams needs and where I need to be on the pitch.

"It's good because I'm learning more about the game and I'll continue to learn.

"I'm not as good at that side of the game, but as I've been playing, as I’ve been learning, I know that the team I’m in at the minute, the way we play, we won’t have the ball in most games as much as other teams, but I'm doing that side of the game better and want to continue to.

"I know you’ve got to work as hard without the ball as you do when you have it, especially in our team, it’s so important."

He added: “It’s all about reading the game and anticipating the pass that the opposition can play, and having those pressing triggers.

“But we know how good teams are in the Premier League and you’ve got to press at the right moments.

“You can’t press in ones or twos because teams can pick you off and that’s the moment they’re looking for.

"But the lads help and guide you, as does the gaffer, on when to press and when you shouldn't, but I'm always looking to improve that side of the game."