Football's fine line between love, hate and sarcasm

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In these heady days of domestic football, with the English game drowning in superstars, tycoon owners and petrodollars, the fate of teams who dare to climb up from the Championship and duel with the Premier League big boys often seems written before a whistle is blown. Hardly anyone gives newly promoted teams a cat in hell's chance of survival in England's top league anymore, let alone a chance of actually enjoying success.

Anything above last-gasp relegation defiance is treated as exceptional, with the club in question patronised for their dogged determination, their canny manager's experienced know-how or their clutch of lucky giant-killing results. Burnley have come along to the 2014/15 Premier League party seemingly ready-made for such epithets; having been steered to promotion under the impressive Sean Dyche last term, the Clarets, with a transfer budget only just larger than the price of an Arsenal season ticket, seem doomed to failure from the off. Fans of north-west football and hilarious mascots shouldn't despair just yet, however. Of the three newbies in the Premier League, the Clarets have the best chance of survival; a look at their success last season tells us why.

PROMOTION GLORY
If you could only choose one word to sum up Burnley's 2013/14 campaign, you would have to choose 'unexpected.' Relegation, rather than promotion, was on the cards for a side that had finished 11th the season before, and who had lost their talisman striker, Charlie Austin, to moneybags Queens Park Rangers at the end of the transfer window. Unlike other sides recently relegated from the top tier, Burnley did not almost bankrupt themselves in desperation to return to the Premier League, instead taking their time over squad rebuilding and balancing the finances. Last term was Dyche's first full season in charge, the former Watford manager having taken over from Eddie Howe in October 2012. Despite steering his new charges to a respectable mid-table finish in 2012/13, and despite having previously guided Watford to their third highest Championship points tally for almost a decade in 2011/12, the wonders worked by Dyche last season took everyone by surprise. Burnley's modest budget and squad size coupled with the ambitions of 'Arry's QPR, McClaren's Derby and García's Brighton, not to mention the general toughness of the Championship, meant getting anywhere near the top half would be a tough order for the Clarets. 46 games later, Dyche's men had won 26 games, scored 72 goals, could claim the meanest defence in the Championship with only 37 goals conceded and ultimately sat secure in second, eight points above the Play-Offs. Most impressive of all was the way in which Burnley achieved their success last term, dominating possession in most games and thwarting teams with their high-energy passing play.

Last season saw records drop like the proverbial flies at Turf Moor, with Burnley enjoying their best ever start to a season for 116 years, including a 12-game unbeaten run in the league, from the end of August until the end of November. Most obviously essential to the Clarets' good fortune was the almost telepathic connection between strikers Sam Vokes and Danny Ings, who bagged 41 of Burnley's 72 league goals between them, and would certainly have converted many more had Vokes not ruptured his cruciate ligament in March. Ings finished up Championship Player of the Year, benefiting from Dyche's preference for fast, attacking football and helping the Clarets to their first automatic promotion to England's top division for 41 years. Burnley's success stemmed in no small part from Dyche; the ex-Millwall defender's inherent judgement and nous saw the Lancashire side hit the ground running, though the man they call Ginger Mourinho is the first to deflect the glory on to his players. There was certainly an impressive team spirit about Turf Moor last season, as is needed in a small, cash-strapped squad – only 22 players pulled on the Burnley shirt last term. Dyche's clever business in the transfer window saw midfielders David Jones and Scott Arfield, plus goalie Tom Heaton, arrive on frees yet play an integral part in the Clarets' promotion. Unsurprisingly for the team with the tightest defence in the league, Burnley only succumbed twice at home last season. Turf Moor is unlikely to be such a fortress in the Premier League, but after the shock of last season, Dyche's men have proved that once they set their minds to something, they will prove their doubters wrong. Ultimately, they couldn't quite match Leicester City, losing to the Foxes at home and drawing at the King Power Stadium, and too many draws – a whopping 15 in total - prevented Burnley from winning the Championship outright. That said, the Clarets were a cut above the rest of England's second division, and will hope that their talent and team ethic continues to serve them well in the Premier League.

TRANSFER ACTIVITY
No big names have whisked their way to East Lancashire this summer so far – unsurprising for a club with a transfer budget worth less than Luis Suárez's molars – but Dyche has secured a clutch of decent signings. Hanging on to Michael Kightly, on loan last season from Stoke, was good business, as was enticing Premier League stalwarts Steven Reid and Matthew Taylor from West Brom and West Ham respectively. Lukas Jutkiewicz is perhaps the most exciting new name amongst Dyche's summer purchases; the striker scored 8 times and made 5 assists for Middlesbrough in the Championship last term. Dyche has previously worked with Marvin Sordell at Watford, and will be looking forward to renewing his relationship with the former Charlton and Bolton man. Even with Vokes injured, Burnley's strike-force, which also contains Ashley Barnes, looks exciting, though Premier League defences will prove a real test of its potency. The addition of keeper Matthew Gilks from troubled Blackpool will provide more competition for Tom Heaton, and though Burnley have just had their third bid for West Brom defender Craig Dawson rejected, a move to Turf Moor could see the ex-England U21 International finally live up to his potential.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Most of the Burnley team caught the eye last season, with full-back Kieran Trippier proving one of the most impressive Clarets players, clocking in with a Championship high of 14 assists in all competitions, and averaging 7.55 on Whoscored.com. That said, it's hard to look past Danny Ings for Burnley's player to watch. The Winchester-born centre forward was prolific last season, converting 21 times in the league and assisting 7 goals. Even though his strike partner Sam Vokes will be out until October, Ings will hope for a solid start to Premier League life, alongside new signings Marvin Sordell and Lukas Jutkiewicz. Used to dominating possession last season, matches in the Premier League will be very different for the Clarets, who will have to adapt their game and get used to perfecting their counter-attack, even at Turf Moor. Any chances which come Ings' way will have to be taken, and likewise the whole Burnley team must use set-pieces to their advantage and get ahead when they can. The pressure will be on Ings to adjust to bettering the likes of Vincent Kompany, Per Mertesacker and Gary Cahill. It's a big ask, but Turf Moor's current cult hero will relish the challenge.

AMBITION
As for Burnley's potential, there are promising signs. An exciting, encouraging young manager happy to play expansive football, a reassuringly competent board who put financial stability and growth before profit, and a compelling team ethic make Burnley stand out like few other football clubs these days. There is a telling quote that Dyche gave to BBC Sport, in the aftermath of Burnley's promotion: "You're a custodian [of a football club], not just a manager. This club has got a rich history and it is one that has to be protected. It has to be moved forward but in the correct manner." For one of the founder members of the Football League to be competing amongst England's elite once more, on a shoestring budget, is a truly wonderful achievement, and reminds us all of the power of football to unite, represent and inspire a community. Survival in the Premier League is, of course, all-important, and will be hard-fought and hard-won if realised. As well as avoiding relegation, Burnley fans will expect to see the football they have grown accustomed to seeing under Dyche continue, a far cry from their last season in the Premier League, when they dutifully fulfilled the role of whipping boys. Despite being favourites to go down, with most bookies offering odds of 4/7, the Clarets surprised us all last year. They may just do so again.

PREDICTION: 17th

 

       

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