Sean Dyche’s tactics at Burnley have achieved great outcomes mainly due to its defensive style, only conceding two goals in the last six games in the Premier League, even though playing against teams of the calibre of Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.
In this scout report, we are going to do a deep tactical analysis of the defensive style used by the Clarets, using a perfect mixture of strategies: high pressing and central compactness. We would also do an analysis of how they combine man-marking or zonal coverage depending on the position on the field. This defensive style has positioned Nick Pope as the leader of the clean sheets table with eleven games above Alisson and Kasper Schmeichel.
To start with, let’s analyze the pressing style of the Clarets when rivals re-start from their half. In these scenarios, a high pressing style is used to recover the ball in the attacking third. To remark here that pressing is achieved when the pressure applied is intended to recover the ball, as in this case. In the next image, we can see both strikers Chris Wood and Jay Rodriguez positioned in front of the centre-backs and one of the centre-midfielders, in this case, Ashley Westwood following Manchester United’s pivot, to win the ball in the attacking third.
This high pressing strategy is supported by a well-prepared man-mark coverage in which each player is positioned next to its respective mark before the restart. The Clarets use a strict man-marking coverage in their high pressing, each player in charge of following a specific rival in the attacking third. In the next picture, we can see that when the rivals use two pivots both central midfielders are following closely their markers and wingers are in charge of the fullbacks as we can see with Jeff Hendrick’s position.
Another important characteristic of this high pressing is the proactive defensive philosophy used by Sean Dyche’s team. In their pressing, the Clarets look to control their rival’s offence and force the rivals to go long or make a mistake. They increase this control by pressing using shadow runs that enable one player to be able to mark two rivals. In the next picture, we can see Rodriguez after pressing the United centre-back, continues to press the goalkeeper with a shadow curve run covering the pass to its respective mark.
These shadow runs become effective when pressing, as the extra player on the rival’s build-up is neutralised as two players are being marked. In the next picture, we see how this is achieved by Westwood running into the goalkeeper after their respective pivot had passed back the ball, pressing and forcing the rivals to go long.
Compact low block
We can say that the Clarets apply a “rhythmic pressing”, as this high pressing is not kept through all the game and when rivals enter into the middle third or re-start in this third, the whole team changes the strategy and shape into a compact defence.
The coordination and the communication in which this change is done is delighting, as not only the position changes to a compact shape but also the coverage changes into a zonal one. As we can see in the next picture, both defensive and midfield lines positioned on their half into a horizontal compact shape only covering the ball-side half.
The Clarets use a position-orientated zonal marking in which the reference of each payer is their team-mates, so the whole team keeps their distance, moving respectively to either of the sides or staying compact in the central area.
One of the highest benefits of this defensive compactness is the ball access gain, as the team overloads the area next to the ball. In the next picture, we can see that the whole midfield line has shifted to the ball-side and this increase the defensive access, as numerical superiority is created near the ball.
The other benefit and the main reason for this defensive compactness is the spatial control of the central area which tends to be the most dangerous area of the game. The Clarets gain a spatial control in this critical area of the pitch by positioning both centre-backs, centre-mids, and strikers in a horizontal and vertical compact defence.
In the next sequence, we can see this spatial control applied, as the ball is penetrated through the central area, the central midfielder drops into the area with the centre-back, surrounding the striker and winning the ball as shown in the second picture.
Here we can see this strategy working even more effectively as four players are surrounding Joelinton in the central area, creating a numerical superiority, reducing the time and space when rivals collect the ball in this area. In this case it’s the full-back Charles Taylor, who quickly joins the central area as a result of being compact with access to the ball carrier.
Although Burnley has achieved great results with this style of defending, there are some individual and collective weaknesses that we are going to analyse. Firstly, as we mention the Clarets use a high pressing style when rivals are building up from their defensive third, using strict man-coverage. This kind of coverage could end up involving all of the midfield and attacking players leaving a huge space between the lines to be exploited. In the next picture, we can see how Arsenal has managed to escape from that high pressing and Mesut Özil collects the ball in between those lines with time and space to create a dangerous attack.
Also, this high pressing could create 1 v 1’s defending coverage if rivals use three or more players in their attack. If this is the case, the defensive line must defend comfortably on this situation and be fast to cover runs in behind their backs. In the next picture, we see how the defensive line of the Clarets are on 1 v 1’s, each responsible for one attacker.
James Tarkowski & Ben Mee have good individual characteristics when defending in the compact block or when rivals tend to go long winning frequently in those aerial duels. But both have shown individual weaknesses defending on 1 v 1 with space. The next picture shows a goal conceded against Leicester City. Even though it was from a transition what we want to show here is that on 1 v 1 duels or as here 2 v 2, this pairing of centre-backs are under defensive inferiority against fast rivals due to their physical attributes.
The other weakness of Sean Dyche’s style is that on the defensive compact block on the central areas. The strategy as mentioned before is to control this critical area, but this means allowing rivals to be positioned free on the wide lanes. As we see in the next picture, the Bournemouth winger receives the ball in these areas with time and space.
When playing against teams with individual superiority on 1 v 1’s this creates an extreme danger in allowing wide rivals to be free. In the next picture, we can see a penalty conceded against Chelsea after time and space has been conceded to a wide player with the technique of Willian, able to exploit that 1 v 1 with time and space given.
We have gone through a deep analysis of how Sean Dyche has applied his philosophy in Burnley’s defensive style, combining a high pressing and low block compactness. This has been perfectly deployed in the last games and has been one of the main reasons to be awarded the Premier League manager of February. All defensive styles have their weaknesses and we have gone through them, some as a consequence of the strategy used, others caused by individual attributes that do not fit into a man-marking coverage.
All in all, the coordination and preparation of the team in the defensive phase are delighting, showing the great job of the coach. Either pressing high or creating a compact low block there has to be perfect preparation from the players and at the same time, a high level of communication to achieve the objective of disrupting the rival’s play and winning the ball, which has been achieved perfectly in the last games. If this defensive level could be maintained a better positioning in the table could be foreseen.