How naiviety left Burnley on the brink of relegation


Burnley are on the brink.  


A 4-1 home defeat by Newcastle United has left the Clarets’ Premier League survival hopes hanging by a thread. Now five points adrift of safety with two games to play, Saturday's thrashing by the Magpies typified what has gone wrong for Vincent Kompany's side this season. 


Burnley actually made a bright start to the game. They had five shots to Newcastle’s one within the opening 15 minutes, as well as 62% possession. Eddie Howe’s team found themselves pinned back and unable to service Callum Wilson and Alexander Isak up top. 


Not for the first time, though, Burnley lacked a cutting edge. They had particular success in
releasing right-back Lorenz Assignon down the flank, but those dangerous situations often petered out. Burnley put their opponents under pressure early on, but Newcastle were not exactly hanging on for dear life. 


Then, another familiar theme. Newcastle proceeded to score three goals before half time with alarming ease.  


For the first, Wilson pounced after Arijanet Muric had saved Isak’s initial effort. The second saw Burnley undone by a crossfield pass from Anthony Gordon. After Wilson outmuscled Maxime Esteve, Jacob Murphy’s cut-back was swept home by Sean Longstaff. Bruno Guimaraes then made it three after being left in acres of space inside the Burnley box. 


Newcastle eased off after the break, but only after Isak had missed a penalty before making amends by putting his team 4-0 up after Burnley were once again undone by a quick transition. Despite Dara O’Shea’s late consolation, this was Burnley’s 12th defeat of the campaign in front of their own fans, leaving them with the joint-worst home record in the division. Turf Moor has been the opposite of a tough place to go. 


How naiviety left Burnley on the brink of relegation


The two main issues on display against Newcastle - attacking bluntness and defensive brittleness - have dogged Burnley throughout the campaign.  


Start with their inefficiency in the final third. For all their tidy approach play at times, only Sheffield United (9.6) are averaging fewer shots per game than Kompany’s men (11.3). Burnley also rank second-bottom for shots inside the box (6.3 per game), bottom for attempts inside the six-yard box (0.8 per game), and top for the share of shots from outside the penalty area (37%). Unsurprisingly given those numbers, Burnley have the worst cumulative xG in the divison (40.92). 


Their shortcomings without the ball have been just as damaging. Newcastle are not the first team to have sliced through Burnley at will. There has been a naiviety and fragility to their performances all season. The last few weeks had brought an improvement, but in Saturday’s must-win encounter; Burnley reverted to type. 


Put simply, Kompany’s side have been too easy to play against. They average just 16.1 tackles per game, the fourth-lowest figure in the division. The only three teams that make fewer challenges are those that typically dominate possession and win most of their matches - Manchester City, Arsenal and Aston Villa.  


It is hard to shake the feeling that, in many ways, Burnley have been architects of their own downfall. Their commitment to playing out from the back has been hailed as admirable by some, but Burnley are not good enough at it. Twice in recent weeks, errors from Muric with the ball at his feet have led to opposition goals.  


Off the pitch, Kompany may regret making so many changes last summer. Burnley spent more than £100m on 15 recruits following promotion. In the process they unwisely jettisoned many of the players who had got them into the Premier League in the first place. Some have since been brought back into the fold, but a lack of cohesion early on contributed to Burnley’s dismal start to life back in the top flight. 


Following Saturday’s thumping by Newcastle, the Clarets need a miracle. Anything other than a victory over Tottenham on Saturday would send them down - and even that would not be enough if Nottingham Forest were to beat Chelsea. Kompany was linked with the Spurs job 12 months ago. Now he must begin planning for life back in the Championship.

How naiviety left Burnley on the brink of relegation