Vincent Kompany's Burnley - what Josh Cullen will bring to the table
Speaking to journalists in Belgium, Josh Cullen could be a key capture for Vincent Kompany’s Burnley.
He is the sort of player that won’t get all the headlines, but will quietly and efficiently make the team tick.
Looking for any pointers as to how Kompany's Burnley will play, it was obvious from the opening stages of Friday’s first and only public pre-season friendly, that the Republic of Ireland midfielder will be deployed in a similar fashion to how he was at Anderlecht.
With permission from Ben Griffis, the founder of cafetactiques.com, who holds Level 1 qualifications from the PFSA in Opposition Analysis and Technical Scouting, he noted in his analysis of Kompany’s Anderlecht: ”While lining up as the right-sided central midfielder on paper and in defense, Cullen acts as the right-sided center back during Anderlecht’s buildup.
"While global football is rife with teams who drop a midfielder in front of the center backs or even between them during buildup (think Pep Guardiola’s teams), Cullen is never seen splitting the center backs; he always takes up a wide position to form a back three as the right-sided player. Even if he’s further on the left side of the pitch when Anderlecht win possession.
“In every game he plays, this is consistent. It is also predictable, as Cullen drops back during almost every non-counter possession where Anderlecht build up from the back.
Kompany’s typical buildup formation. Many times, the wingers and both fullbacks will also push up."
Much like we saw from Steven Defour in his time at Burnley, when he often popped up in a right back position to instigate Burnley attacks…
Cullen time and again dropped to the right to set the ball rolling as such, picking passes from that position.
The full backs were very much pushed up, with Charlie Taylor and Connor Roberts often as high up the pitch as Burnley’s furthest forward, usually Jay Rodriguez.
And they retained their width, with the rest of the side more central.
As Griffis also saw of Anderlecht: “One tweak is narrowing all players but the fullbacks. This will either force the opponent to vacate space on the wing to cover the sheer number of players in midfield, or allow the players in midfield space to turn and pick passes. Most teams will choose to leave the fullbacks wide open.
When Anderlecht narrow their non-fullbacks, many passing triangles appear.”
In the first half in particular, this was apparent at Shrewsbury, albeit in a practice game against League One opposition, there were often good combinations with the midfield, Ashley Barnes – dropping deeper – and Rodriguez.
And the opening goal came from a central slide rule pass from Brownhill in to Samuel Bastien, who finished well – the sort of goal we haven’t been used to seeing under the previous manager.
Burnley’s second goal came from substitute Ne-Jai Tucker, who came on at right midfield at half-time. He fed a ball down the right for Barnes, who played it inside for Cullen, to sweep the ball out to Brownhill.
His teasing cross hit space for Tucker to run into and finish from close range.
This is another Kompany tweak – bringing the right back into the back three and pushing Cullen higher: “The first benefit is having Cullen’s passing range and accuracy closer to the final third and the attackers.
"Changing the focal point of buildup closer to the goal forces the opposition to commit more players to midfield than the back line, where most of Anderlecht’s attackers line up.
The second benefit is that it allows Anderlecht to have more space on the right side of the pitch for players to run into.
"In this situation, the right midfielder will stay a little deeper, allowing him to make dangerous runs into acres of space. This also opens up the right side of the pitch for a striker to move wide and receive a long ball—a pass that Kompany’s men like to play.”
That summed up the second goal perfectly, with the third - another Brownhill assist – coming from a cross from the left, which centre back Bobby Thomas turned in.
But for all the tactical tweaks, Kompany has already spoken about what he wants to give the fans, saying on his appointment: "For now, I just want fans to enjoy going to a Burnley game, and if it hasn’t been good, we can be honest with each other and turn it around and go again and improve, and we've got a team, the fans and players together.
"That's more valuable to me now than big statements because anyone can make a big statement, but not everyone knows how to get to a winning culture.”
And on Friday, he added: “I want to simplify what I’m looking for – I’m looking for goals. Whenever we haven’t scored, I won’t be happy, if we score loads, I’ll be happy.”
Hopefully he and the Clarets supporters will both have much to please them moving forward.