Burnley head into this weekend’s game against Leicester knowing they must not lose if they want to maintain any realistic hope of survival. However, City have shown in recent weeks they will be no pushovers and will also look to secure the win – a result that could take them three points clear of the drop zone.
Sean Dyche’s side are on poor form, having only scored one goal in their previous seven outings, picking up just four points in the process (although these did come in the form of a win and a draw against Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur respectively). Leicester, on the other hand, have put together a run of three consecutive wins and are scoring as freely as they have at any stage of the season.
Sounds familiar? Rewind to the reverse fixture earlier this season. The Clarets hadn’t scored in five back then and, despite consecutive losses, Leicester were still in fine form – confirmed by points against Manchester United, Arsenal and Everton. The Foxes won the first half 2-1 but played a negative, nervous looking brand of football in the second and were lucky to come away with even a point. Perhaps the manner in which they dropped the two points – a 96th minute free kick – sparked Nigel Pearson’s post-match comment that Leicester are ‘better than Burnley in every single way’. Some would argue that this moment of poor judgement in the media has effectively written Sean Dyche’s team-talk for him.
Tactically, Burnley’s goalscoring woes should allow Pearson to stick with the attacking style of play that has served his team so well in their run-in up to now. When asked about their teams attacking threat, Clarets fans said that wing play was not something they utilised effectively. In fact, they were so displeased with the quality coming from the flanks that some said the suspension of Ashley Barnes, who has played wide left in recent weeks, will actually positively affect their team’s chances. This leads to the idea that Pearson may decide to line up in a 3-4-3 and look to seriously pressure Burnley’s back line; playing with wing-backs can sometimes leave the wide areas exposed against teams with quality in those positions. If City do choose to go out and attack from the start then Burnley’s lack of electric pace down the wings nullifies the counter-attacking threat that comes with pushing wing-backs higher up the pitch.
Burnley will look to make the game difficult for City by pressing them all over the pitch and not allowing them any time on the ball. However, this high press could mean that, should City break through the midfield line quickly, there will be a lot of space in behind. Therefore, Pearson should look to push Jamie Vardy through the middle of the pitch rather than wide areas, where he can run into those spaces. An early Leicester City goal could be absolutely crucial as this would force Burnley to commit forward even more and open up additional space at the back, leaving opportunities for counter-attacks akin to the one that so nearly resulted in a goal vs Swansea; Jamie Vardy burst through and only slightly overhit his pass to Riyad Mahrez.
One of the key battles in this game comes down Leicester’s left hand side: Jeffrey Schlupp vs Kieran Trippier. The Burnley man was the Championship’s top assister last season – no mean feat considering he played the entire season in defence (right back, to be specific). In fact, one Burnley fan stated that he is the ‘only decent crosser’ the club have. If Schlupp can come out on top of that battle early on and pin Trippier back then Burnley lose a major attacking outlet. However, should it go the other way then Schlupp, especially if he’s playing as a lone wing back’ will have to be much more defensive minded when he finds himself up against two men out wide.
When you look at Burnley’s attacking players, one name stands out – Danny Ings. Linked with some of England’s biggest clubs, Ings has attracted a lot of attention as one of England’s most talented young strikers. However, a look at his stats reveal he has only scored just 9 goals in 32 appearances this campaign and has none in his last eight. In fact, his stats are very similar to those of Leicester striker Leonardo Ulloa (10 in 34 and 1 in his last 10). The Argentine, though, has seen much less hype surrounding his performances. Nonetheless, he is still Burnley’s most prolific attacking player and only himself, Boyd and Barnes – the latter of which is serving his aforementioned ban – have scored more than two goals all season. Ensuring he continues his poor run of form will be a huge aid to Leicester City’s chances of winning this match.
Final prediction? Burnley know they need a result here, as do their fans. They will go out and play high tempo, energetic football and look to pressure City at every possible opportunity. However, Leicester’s recent scoring run means I can’t look past them getting a goal in this one. However, the Clarets work rate is incredible – they consistently run further than any other team in the league – and their constant endeavour against a still-shaky back line means I have this one down as 1-1 draw.