After a quite sensational season, Sean Dyche and his Burnley side are eyeing European qualification with the domestic cup results likely to end in a way which benefits the club.
If Burnley can maintain their position in seventh place, they will be in line to receive a place in the Europa League provided Southampton don’t lift the FA Cup.
Manchester City’s victory in the Carabao Cup final sees a European spot handed to the team which finishes in sixth place in the league, this is currently Arsenal.
The Gunners will take this second Europa League place provided they don’t lift the trophy itself in Lyon this season. If Arsene Wenger’s charges don’t win the Europa League, then Burnley will be reliant on Southampton falling short at Wembley.
If Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham all finish within the top six this season, then the third and final Europa League spot would fall to the team in seventh place.
Whilst much of that is conjecture at this moment, Dyche has to ensure his team remain focus on earning points and maintaining their form.
Stability has been the buzz word surrounding Turf Moor for much of the current campaign. Not only have the team been able to show a marked improvement upon the 2016/17 season, they’ve been able to remain consistent and solid as the season has progressed.
Now there have been long periods where wins haven’t been forthcoming, yet defensively the team has rallied and ensured the team didn’t lost matches.
They’ve conceded just three goals less than Manchester United, and six fewer than Manchester City. Goal-scoring has been a concern but this will be on the summer agenda as Dyche looks to improve his squad once again, provided he doesn’t receive too tempting an offer from elsewhere.
Burnley and European football isn’t a mix many would have thought possible at the beginning of the season, however they are in this position on merit.
Whilst you can argue that Everton have been damaged by a poor start to the season, whilst Leicester also had to change their coach, Burnley have outperformed them both and are more deserving on Europa League qualification.
It would provide a huge boost to the club off the pitch as well, the financial boost of Europa League football may not make the tills clatter at Old Trafford, yet at Turf Moor it would feel like a welcome boost.
Additionally, offering continental football makes Burnley an infinitely more attractive prospect to players in the summer.
Michael Keane’s summer departure was expected to disrupt Burnley’s defensive solidity, yet they’ve made a profit and actually improved at the back. James Tarkowski has been a revelation, fully deserving his recent England call-up, whilst Tom Heaton’s long-term injury absence hasn’t been felt at all courtesy of Nick Pope’s form.
This ability to adapt to your circumstances is incredibly important for clubs looking to build a foothold in the English top flight. Burnley’s initial promotion in 2014 handed them the funds to improve the infrastructure of the club’s facilities.
With this work now complete, every season in the Premier League is a bonus and the funds go straight back into youth development and first-team signings.
Dyche’s man-management skills and ability to get the very best out of his players has seen The Clarets move away from the annual relegation battleground and be considered a stable mid-table team.
Progression is so difficult in the Premier League because of the immense fiscal difference between the league’s truly elite teams.
It’s impossible for mid-table teams to crack the top four, Leicester City took full advantage of a lean year for several of the top teams, but it won’t be repeated any time soon.
Burnley aren’t aiming for that, the issue in the Premier League is how willing the ownership behind teams are to invest in order to secure mid-table solidity. We’ve seen both Sunderland and Aston Villa suffer immeasurably due to the waning interest of an owner, it’s now important for Burnley to make moves to solidify their position.
Europa League qualification is a true sign of progression for them, it would speak volumes for their transfer policy, selling at the right time and identifying talent who will fit within the dressing room.
Aside from clashes against Chelsea and Arsenal, Burnley’s remaining fixtures are actually rather kind. West Bromwich Albion welcome the Clarets to The Hawthorns on Saturday with the Baggies staring at near-certain relegation.
Further fixtures against relegation threatened Stoke City and an improving Brighton and Hove Albion provide more opportunities for Dyche’s charges to secure the points they need to consolidate a seventh placed finish.
European football at Turf Moor would be quite the spectacle, and whilst it’s not in their hands entirely, Burnley’s work this season is fully deserving of such a prize.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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