How far can ‘strongest’ Burnley squad go?
Burnley were the surprise package in the 2017-18 season as they finished seventh, but how far can their current crop go?
According to midfielder Jack Cork, the current Clarets squad is the “strongest group” the club have had at their disposal since his arrival.
Burnley boss Sean Dyche signed eight players on permanent deals over the summer, including former striker Jay Rodriguez and full-back Erik Pieters, as well as bringing in Premier League winner Danny Drinkwater on a loan deal from Chelsea.
The Clarets struggled against the drop for much of last season before pulling clear to finish in 15th place and six points clear of danger. In the previous campaign, Burnley’s seventh place finish earned them a place in Europa League qualifying but they fell short in their bid to reach the tournament proper.
The fact they were involved in Europa League qualifying last year clearly had a huge impact as Burnley won just three of their opening 19 games and were left in 18th spot after a 5-1 mauling at home to Everton on Boxing Day, before recovering in the second half of the season.
With no European distractions, Burnley could once again be outside contenders to challenge in the top half. We may still be in the early stages of the current campaign but at the moment it looks as if the battle for European qualification could be wide open. Top six regulars Manchester United and Tottenham are struggling in ninth and 11th spot respectively and last season’s surprise package Wolves made a statement by beating Manchester City 2-0 last weekend. However, they have a Europa League campaign to juggle and Arsenal and Chelsea are yet to really convince despite sitting in the top five.
Burnley’s best shot at securing a Europa League place through the league would be if the places assigned to the cup competitions went to the teams that come in sixth and potentially seventh, and Cork feels his side are better placed to mount an assault on the top half of the Premier League since he made the move from Swansea in 2017.
“Looking at teams I’ve been involved in, or any Burnley team over the last 20 or 30-odd years, this is probably the strongest group they’ve had,” he told the club website.
“We’ve got two players for each position. But they’re not just players who are young lads that can fill in.”
Burnley sit seventh in the table going into the international break with 12 points from eight games. Dyche may well have the best squad he’s ever had available to him this year but in truth, if the Clarets are to qualify for Europe again, they will need a few key rivals to have poor campaigns. Chances are they’ll also have to better their total of 54 points from the 2017-18 season to do so (Wolves came seventh last year with 57).
It isn’t an impossible ask for the Clarets, but it still looks a tall order despite Cork’s confidence after their strong start.
Gareth Freeman is an experienced journalist who can offer in-depth knowledge on a host of sports, especially football, tennis, snooker and basketball.