Burnley’s start to the season has been anything but uneventful. The Clarets have enjoyed their first foray into Europe since 1967, taken in trips to Scotland, Turkey and Greece and currently find themselves 13th in the Premier League table.
We spoke exclusively to manager Sean Dyche to discuss it all ahead of the weekend visit of Chelsea.
Ladbrokes News: You’ve turned things around after a bit of a sticky start. How would you assess your opening nine Premier League matches?
Sean Dyche: League-wise it’s been tricky with the first few because of the Europa League and that was really taxing on the players, particularly the journeys that we’ve had. Where we work with such a small group, it’s obviously more of a challenge.
We came out of that with three good results rather than performances. I thought the performances were ok. We played very well against AFC Bournemouth. Then we fought it out against Cardiff City to get three points and then we didn’t play very well against Huddersfield Town but got another point.
Obviously Saturday [v Manchester City] was a tough ask no matter what happens. Generally speaking, I think it’s been a mixed bag of performances and there’s certainly room for improvement, while still getting some points on the board along the way.
LN: You touched on the Europa League there. How much of an effect do you think the competition had on your early season form?
SD: I think it’s one of those things that when you get into the Europa League slots, you get hit with the immediate negatives from everywhere. Everyone piles it onto you but you’re positive about it because obviously it’s the first time in 50 odd years for a club like Burnley.
Having gone through it, you can understand why people talk about it, including people who’ve done it, including coaches, managers and players. It is tough, the schedule is tough and I think it needs to be reformatted, which there is talk of anyway. The home and away idea where you’ve equally got to play in the Premier League a couple of days later, and then travel of course, is tough.
The big super powers can handle it because they’ve got so many players and often some kids of super-high quality as well. For us, we had the two European trips before the first two league games at the start of the season and we took 16 or so, along with Dwight McNeil, who is only 18-years-old.
On that side of things it is the truth – it is taxing. It’s still a great thing to have gone through. It was good for me as a manager who’s still learning and good for the team and good for the club. But it is taxing, there’s no two ways about it.
LN: On that note, what did yourself and the players take from the competition and do you all have a taste for more?
SD: The thing for lots of players was that it was their first time in Europe. And that’s something that goes for me and my staff as well. It was really good to have experienced it and to know the different cultures both at the ground and with the fans, particularly with the Olympiacos game. Let’s just say their fans were interesting! So that was something different.
The planning of course, changes considerably too, along with the logistics and the recovery. I don’t think you can really pinpoint one exact thing. There are a lot of different things that you learn and different experiences you get in a pretty quick period of time.
LN: And just how good were the supporters in that run?
SD: I’ve referenced this in these parts a lot over the years with the away support particularly. The only reason I bring away support up is because it’s expensive. When I was growing up you supported your local side. For me, it was Kettering Town. I was born in Kettering and me and my dad used to go and watch Kettering Town.
I think if you believe in that mentality, which I did as a young kid growing up, you go and support your local club. But then to go away is a whole different ball game. In all my time here the away fans have been amazing with the different journeys and the way they’ve backed the team.
They’ve always travelled in numbers to various parts of the country and now of course Europe. All credit to them for playing their part and I think overall they’d have enjoyed the experience.
LN: Joe Hart also came in around that time. The competition for places must be huge with three England goalkeepers in the squad?
It was one of them. There was a lot of noise at the time but people quickly forget we had a very unfortunate injury to Nick Pope. Tom Heaton had gone through the same thing a year earlier when he got injured.
So we were going into the start of the season with two goalkeepers. Then Anders Lindegaard got injured and all of a sudden we’re down to just Adam Legzdins, who hadn’t had a lot of experience at Premier League level.
Joe was available, so I went and met him, then we spoke to Man City and spoke to him in due course after talking to the club and the rest is history! He’s now a Burnley player and I think he’s enjoying the challenge.
And it is a challenge for us – every season is a challenge in the Premier League . He wasn’t remotely bothered about a glossy badge and all that. He wanted to be part of something and he wanted to challenge.
Joe knows the situation and that there are other very good keepers here and other England internationals as well. He’s bought into that and knows that he’s got to continue to earn the right to keep playing, which he is doing. He’s playing well.
LN: It’s Chelsea up next. Will you be doing anything differently in the run up to that match?
SD: When you play the super powers, you’ve got to challenge yourself for those games. We’ll be tactically aware but we’ve got to continue to focus on ourselves. We know that over the season there are a handful of clubs that are very, very difficult to win against, particularly away from home.
We’ve had some good results at Turf Moor and so you can’t define your whole season by those games. But, they are a chance to get your shoulders back in the sense that the expectation changes. You certainly become underdogs again and we gain that underdog spirit and mentality in those matches.
That’s changed a little bit recently with us doing what we did last season, but that hasn’t changed in these games. The weight of expectation falls onto the opposition but in a respectful way. They are super power clubs now.
These clubs spend vast, vast amounts of money on the top players from all around the globe. We can’t do that, but we believe in our team and how the team operates. There’s a bit of freedom that comes with it to go and take the game on.
LN: Looking ahead now, what do you think is possible from the season? Have your aims changed at all from the start of the campaign?
SD: The reality of every season in the Premier League for Burnley is the reset button. Just because you came seventh last season, that doesn’t guarantee success the next season. We’re a club that’s in a pack that know the gaps in the Premier League, with the main gap between the top six and virtually everyone else outside of the top six.
A couple of clubs are doing what we did last season in Bournemouth and Watford. Whether they can stay resolute over a season is yet to be seen.
It’s very difficult, so the reset button is part of life at Burnley and probably some other clubs as well, where we start again. The expectation goes back to can we build? Can we continue to move forward?
Moving forward in our world is squad depth, squad improvement and the development of players. It doesn’t necessarily mean can we go and finish sixth because that’s very difficult. But what it does mean, is can we continue to grow both as a team and a club on and off the pitch? That’s the biggest challenge.
We want to continue to be competitive and recognised in the Premier League. I think that’s another part of the club’s growth – to find that level where people talk to you like you’re a guaranteed Premier League club. We’re not there yet I don’t feel, but generally speaking there’s a handful of clubs which people associate with the Premier League. We want to become one of those clubs because usually that means you’ve been there for long enough to be recognised.
LN: Finally, we have to ask, have you popped into the Royal Dyche after they renamed the pub in your honour?
SD: No I haven’t! The truth behind it is that it started out as a bit of banter from the landlady, who I actually met at the end of last season at a do. I said to her, you don’t have to call it that!
She insisted and said absolutely not. She said she wanted to and that they would if Burnley got into Europe and we have done, so I said okay and that’s it really!
I haven’t been in there, mainly because I don’t live there. But who knows in the future…
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing