David Freezer: Much for City to learn from Burnley's hard-fought success
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It’s been difficult for all involved with Norwich City to stick to their mantra of ‘ignoring the noise’ amid the recent struggles and today they will meet masters of that skill at Burnley.
The Clarets have constantly been slighted for their direct and physical style of play but it’s rarely seemed to bother them too much, as they bash their way towards Premier League points.
The one thing that does rile Sean Dyche and his players is any accusation of them being dirty though, with their manager also strongly criticising diving players on several occasions.
Last season, 14 teams picked up more than their 48 yellow cards and they have gone an impressive 99 top-flight matches without a sending off. Burnley are as competitive as they come though.
Every second ball, every 50-50 challenge and every aerial contest is almost certain to have one of Dyche’s players straining every sinew to win it for their demanding boss.
As Daniel Farke stressed in his press conference yesterday, there is much to be admired about how the Lancashire side have built their Premier League stability, achieving the success that City crave – albeit with a very different playing style.
Take last Saturday’s very creditable 2-2 draw at Leicester, for example – which was so nearly a win, only for Chris Wood’s injury-time winner to be ruled out for a marginal offside.
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Seven of the players that started that game against the Foxes also started two years ago when Norwich were brought back down to earth with a bump at Turf Moor.
Three of the other four were on the bench, with Jeff Hendrick having moved on to Newcastle on a free transfer since then. In terms of Premier League turnover, that is remarkably settled.
Buoyed by the epic 3-2 win over Manchester City which had defied an injury crisis, the Canaries arrived full of optimism about their chances in September 2019. Some very lacklustre defending soon burst that balloon and ushered in the ‘after the Lord Mayor’s Show’ feeling that many fans had feared.
The likes of Nick Pope, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee and Chris Wood are mainstays of that Clarets XI, drilled in the solid 4-4-2 plan which may not always be attractive but is certainly effective a lot of the time.
New ownership arrived from the US last season and led to Dyche signing a new four-year contract recently, with the former Millwall and Watford defender set to take charge of his 400th Burnley game this afternoon.
The Clarets have spent sensibly in recent years as well, without breaking the bank. Ivory Coast winger Maxwel Cornet, who scored an excellent volley at Leicester last week but is an injury doubt, was signed from Lyon for £13million this summer.
Towering centre-back Nathan Collins was brought in from Stoke for a reported £12m and Wales right-back Connor Roberts from Swansea for just £2.5m ahead of his contract expiring.
Building steadily, spending sensibly, sticking to the game-plan – these are all traits that Norwich aspire to make a success of.
They have proved they can survive a storm as well, having been promoted from the Championship twice before finding a foothold in the top tier.
After finishing seventh in 2018, the Europa League qualifiers took a toll and 2018-19 started with 13 defeats and just three wins from their opening 19 matches, conceding 41 goals to sit 18th at the halfway point.
An eight-game unbeaten run kick-started their campaign belatedly and they finished 15th on 40 points, six clear of trouble.
While at this stage of last season they were barely better off than Norwich now, with one point, three goals scored and 12 conceded after six games. The Clarets ended up 17th but 11 points clear of the bottom three.
There have been beatings along the way. Last season the Clarets conceded four or more in defeats to Manchester City, Leicester, Tottenham and Leeds. Yet today it will mostly be the same faces, the same uncompromising style and the same battle as always.
Both teams are desperately searching for their first win of the season and if Norwich are to finally put a halt to the doom and gloom, they will have to match that fighting spirit and earn the right to play the attacking football they strive for.
The first goal is likely to prove crucial as well, with the Canaries having lost their last 31 Premier League games when conceding the first goal.
Standing up to Burnley on their own turf will be particularly important as, perhaps surprisingly, they haven’t won any of their last 13 home games in the Premier League - a streak they will be focused on finishing as they pursue a seventh consecutive season in the top flight.