Burnley v Birmingham
Burnley are reinforcing their position as probably the best team in the division since the return of the league following the World Cup break.
Earlier in the season, though their quality was obvious and their football of a high level there was still some concern that they weren’t finishing games particularly well. Indeed, seven of their first sixteen matches ended 1-1.
However, despite little change in their performance data, they began to find the net more regularly and keep teams out of their area extremely effectively. Burnley are the top scorers in the division with 46 goals, over two per game, though this is some way clear of their xG of 30, which suggests some variance might have to come back their way at some stage.
The probable reason for Burnley’s improvement over the first half of the season is the way that the recruited players in the summer have been folded into the team gradually. From the first game of the season only 4 or 5 of those players are still first choice. The class and technique of Anass Zaroury and the direct, quick, dribbling style of Manuel Benson have really added to the ability of the attack, and with Jay Rodriguez using his knowhow and experience in a spine that exudes those key attributes in Josh Brownhill, Jack Cork, and the younger Taylor Harwood-Bellis, Burnley should be going into every match as strong favourites at the moment.
Birmingham are having a good season under John Eustace. In his first full season as an EFL manager Eustace has managed to do what many others before him failed to do. He has galvanised the team and the supporters around him and given the players clear instructions and a platform to express themselves. The issue in this match is going to be that the gap in quality might just be too big to breach. Sheffield United have given teams a blueprint of how to play Burnley, but none of Blackburn, QPR or Middlesbrough were able to do that.
With the Blades continuing to breathe down their necks and Watford beginning to look like they may consistently challenge at the top of the league, Burnley will be motivated to keep the pressure up. They have been given an extra day’s rest due to their Wednesday night cup exploits, where they acquitted themselves ok against Manchester United, so I am more confident that it will not affect them from a physical or mental perspective.
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