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Q&A inför Burnley hemma

Liverpool har gått ifrån att bli jagade till att själv jaga, första steget på vägen tillbaka mot serieledning är söndagens hemmamöte med Burnley. Motståndarna hade en motig start på säsongen, men har varvat upp efter nyår och bland annat besegrat Tottenham. Jamie Smith(@JamieSmithSport) var tidigare med och startade upp @nonaynever, en podcast specialiserad på Burnley, utöver det skriver han på @Omnisportnews. Här berättar han om hur säsongen varit för söndagens motståndare:

  1. The first half of the season was really tough for Burnley but since january you have quite a good form, can you tell us a bit about what was the problem at the start of the season and what has changed since we entered 2019?

It’s a tricky one to put your finger on and I’ve thought about it a lot. The Europa League is an obvious excuse and the right place to start. It’s fair to say the squad wasn’t equipped to cope with the travel and a lot of extra games at the start of the season. In my view, we didn’t start pre-season early enough to be fully ready for the premature start of the campaign – our players haven’t looked fit enough in some games. We had to rotate the team and we never do that – it was really destabilising on the defence in particular. And our transfer business was sub-standard, not helped by joint record signing Ben Gibson then getting injured. But we can only use the Europa League as an excuse so much – our qualification looked likely from about March so we should have been better prepared throughout the club.
In terms of the actual team, the big change was in goal where we signed Joe Hart to cover for the injured Nick Pope and Tom Heaton. On paper it seemed to make sense as a short-term measure, though Heaton was only going to be out for a couple of weeks. Hart was not directly responsible for many of the goals we conceded, but breaking up the unit that had been so successful had a huge impact on how solid we were at the back. Conceding five at home to Everton was the final straw and when Heaton belatedly came in for Hart we improved immediately.
The Spurs game was a good example of us getting back to what we’re good at – incredible energy and ferocious pressing from front to back, accurate direct passing and taking our chances.

2. You are five points from the relegation zone and six points from top half, are you happy just to stay up or do you expect the team to climb more in the table?
Staying up has to be the main goal now with only a small cushion from the bottom three. After the Spurs win it looked like we were almost safe but successive losses since then left us looking over our shoulders again. Our run-in is horrible so we need to get a couple of wins quickly, then we can be out of trouble before the last few weeks and relax a little bit. Leicester and Wolves back-to-back at home either side of the upcoming international break are massive.
Then, over the summer, I think we need a fairly substandard rebuilding job with a lot of deadwood shipped out of the squad and some proper investment made to improve quality in key positions.

3. You have been in the Premier League a few years now, what do you hope to see from your team in the upcoming seasons? Mid-table, europoean qualification?
Honestly, last season was probably about as good as it can get for a club like Burnley. You only have to look at the massive amount of money Everton are spending and they still can’t get anywhere close to the top six. There’s no reason why we can’t continue to establish ourselves as a mid-table Premier League side, but at some point the novelty might begin to wear off for some fans. Anyone who really wants to go and watch us at Anfield, Old Trafford and so on has had a plenty of chances to do that in the last few years now.
I don’t want to say last season was a one-off as I firmly believe you should always push to be as ambitious as you can. But clubs like Leicester, West Ham, Wolves, Everton, Crystal Palace, even Bournemouth… they have vastly more resources to try and push for the top six compared to what we have. I’d really like us to have a cup run to get excited about, it’s been ages since we’d had one but Sean Dyche hates them. 

4. Sean Dyche has been at your club for many seasons, do you think he is the right man for you in the future or do you think you need another type of manager to develop further?
Questions were starting to be asked of Dyche around Christmas for what was the first time since very early in his reign, although a lot of fans were insistent we should stick with him even if we were relegated. Longevity and stability is really underrated and you can’t underestimate the job Dyche has done, reshaping the club in his image, while off the pitch huge strides have been made on things like the training ground. Clubs that bin their manager every year simply don’t have what we have with Dyche.
There’s still a lot of work to do on building scouting systems and developing our academy, but you won’t get many people seriously arguing Dyche is not the right man to do it. That said, there are still areas where he is weak. His record in the transfer market isn’t great – a lot of his bigger buys like Gibson and Matej Vydra haven’t made an impact and I can’t understand why we signed the likes of Jon Walters and Nahki Wells. He’s inflexible tactically – our experimentation with a back three earlier in the season was a total disaster. He very rarely makes substitutions or tactical switches mid-game that change matches in our favour.
But it’s easy to forget he’s still relatively inexperienced compared to a lot of Premier League managers. Burnley is his second job, he’s been a manager for less than 10 years. We should cut him some slack and Burnley is the right place for him to continue his development.

5. Who has been your most important player this season? Who is the biggest disappointment?
Given the massive change in our form since he came back into the side, I’d say Heaton is up there. If we had left Hart in goal we’d still be conceding a lot of very cheap goals and be right in the relegation mire, I have absolutely no doubt about that. Heaton is the club captain, adored by fans and obviously very popular in the dressing room. It’s hard from the outside to judge the impact on morale of him being on the bench, but I can’t imagine it made for a happy camp. 
Take your pick for disappointments. I’m a huge fan of Steven Defour and he’s perhaps the most talented player I’ve seen at the club. But he’s just never fit. He’s played six league games this season and we’ve taken only one point from them. I’ve already mentioned Gibson, who we paid £15m for and don’t pick, while Dyche’s lack of faith in Vydra as a potential game-changer off the bench continues to be mystifying. Bringing in Peter Crouch in January while Vydra rarely gets on the pitch says it all.
Key players like Ben Mee and Jack Cork were pretty appalling for the first half of the season, compared to the very high levels they set last season, but both have improved a lot in the last few weeks, to the extent I’ve seen Mee getting touted for a maiden England call-up.

6. How has Burnley played in the games against to top sides this season? How many points have you gained from the six teams at the top of the table?
Like most of the teams outside of the top six, we’ve lost the majority of our games against the big boys. But the Spurs match at Turf Moor recently was a blueprint for how we can upset anyone in the league on our day. We didn’t let them settle, they didn’t create anything of note really – having to score from a throw-in! – and we completely deserved our 2-1 win.
We got a point at Old Trafford in a game that we really should have won as well, having been 2-0 up and as comfortable as you can be away to United, with our team compared to theirs, going into the last few minutes. United needed a pretty dodgy penalty to get one back and then a Fergie-time equaliser started to feel a little bit inevitable.


7. What kind of game do you expect at Anfield?It’s probably as good a time as any to play Liverpool, with their form dipping a little and perhaps some focus turning to the Bayern game next week. Obviously the Reds have taken apart Watford and Bournemouth recently, so there is every chance they could do that to us as well. But games like their West Ham one, plus our brilliant performance against Spurs, show we don’t need to be scared – especially as we led Liverpool at the Turf earlier in the season.
Assuming City beat Watford on Saturday, if we can keep it tight in the first half I expect Anfield to get very nervous indeed. But an early goal would likely kill the game as a contest. I’m particularly keen to see how Virgil van Dijk, a Rolls-Royce of a defender who perhaps deserves Player of the Year honours, handles the unique challenge of facing Ashley Barnes, who has hit five goals in his last six Premier League matches. We’ll probably lose, but hopefully we’ll make a real game of it.

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