Thursday, February 20, 2020

Burnley 2-1 Leicester City: Pope the Hero as Clarets Chase Foxes Off the Turf

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Burnley welcomed Leicester City to Turf Moor on Sunday, in the 23rd round of the 2019/20 Premier League season.

The Clarets have been a regular feature of the English top flight since 2016, but this term they’ve been struggling indeed. It has even been reported that Sean Dyche, the man who’s been in charge of the team since 2012, is facing a possibility of losing his job despite all the good work he’s done over the years. Ahead of this game, they were in 15th place with 24 points to their name, only two more than Aston Villa topping the relegation zone.

On the other hand, Leicester have been sensational this season. Brendan Rodgers has built a truly formidable team, deemed by many better than the title-winning one of 2015/16. Indeed, if it weren’t for Liverpool’s magnificent run, they’d probably still be in with a shot of repeating that feat. As it is, they went to Burnley sitting third with 45 points, 16 less than the league leaders, but only three less than defending champions Manchester City in second.

Team News

Dyche was without the services of striker Ashley Barnes, who is set for a hernia operation. Fellow striker Chris Wood was available despite suffering a broken nose in the defeat at Chelsea the previous week. Jay Rodriguez was also in contention, as was winger Robbie Brady, both back from injury layoffs.

Nick Pope was in goal. James Tarkowski and Ben Mee took up their usual spots in the heart of defence, with Phil Bardsley on their right and Charlie Taylor on the left. Jack Cork and Ashley Westwood paired up the middle of the park, with Jeff Hendrick and Dwight McNeil out wide. Wood and Rodriguez paired up in attack.

Rodgers couldn’t count on midfielder Wilfried Ndidi due to a knee problem. Former captain Wes Morgan had to be assessed ahead of the game and was eventually left out. Midfielders Matthew James and Daniel Amartey were also unavailable. Ben Chilwell was left out following much criticism at his expense after the defeat at the hands of Southampton the previous week.

Kasper Schmeichel stood between the posts. Jonny Evans and Caglar Soyuncu formed the centre-back partnership, flanked by Christian Fuchs on the left and Ricardo Pereira on the right. Nampalys Mendy anchored the midfield, with Denis Praet and James Maddison further up. Harvey Barnes and Ayoze Perez supported Jamie Vardy in attack.

The First Half

Leicester attacked first and Barnes had a go with just over 30 seconds gone, but it was a shot too feeble from an angle too tight to give Pope any problems.

The visitors went for a patient approach after that, trying to keep the ball under control in their own half if need be, but Burnley pressed high with some decisiveness, making it hard for the Foxes to play out from the back. In the fourth minute, a long pass towards Wood found its way to Rodriguez eventually, but the striker’s shot from around 15 yards went far from the target.

The home team were very compact at the back. Even when Leicester reached the edge of their box, they simply couldn’t find any way past the six-man line as McNeil and Hendrick dropped back to add numbers to the defence. Going forward, they mostly whipped long passes towards the box, but the Foxes seemed fully capable of dealing with them.

In the 12th minute, Ricardo found the run of Vardy in behind. Pope came out and Vardy went around him, but he was forced to go wide to the right and chose to employ Maddison from there, but the midfielder failed to control the ball properly. A minute later Perez had a go from the edge of the box, blocked by Tarkowski. As Leicester started moving forward in numbers, Burnley tried to hit back on the counter a few times, but first Rodriguez’s cross towards Wood went no further than Soyuncu, and then Wood’s shot from around 20 yards went comfortably wide.

After a free-kick some 40 yards from the goal gave the Clarets a chance to lob the ball into the box once more, they pushed the visitors back hard for a few minutes during which they had a couple of corners, but the Foxes held out. Then it was Leicester’s turn to try and hit back and they managed to get the ball to Barnes and Vardy a few times and win a few corners themselves, but just like Burnley, they couldn’t make any of it count.

Leicester’s biggest problem in attack seemed to be that Burnley’s defence played a low line, efficiently limiting the space Vardy could possibly exploit with his electric pace. On the other hand, Evans and Soyuncu were absolutely up to the task of physically competing with Wood and Rodriguez.

All that made chances hard to come by, but in the 33rd minute, Cork was careless in possession in the middle of the pitch and allowed Praet to steal the ball from behind. It was picked up by Barnes who entered the box, charged past Mee and slotted past Pope from around 10 yards.

0-1.

The home team now took the initiative and pushed forward with more grit, but this appeared to suit Leicester well. With a goal in the bag, they could afford to drop deeper and the minutes pass, all the time keeping an eye out for the movement of Vardy and the space in front of their striker.

The only player their team which showed any glimpse of struggle was Fuchs on the left defensive flank, but the Clarets too seldom sought to take advantage of that. Hendrick, who was supposed to be on that side, was often forced to come into the middle to pick the ball up and Fuchs had a lot less to do than he should have had, from a Burnley point of view.

In the last minute of the first half, Leicester had two free-kicks in succession from wide right. Maddison’s cross from the first was easily cleared, while from the second Perez won the header at the near post but failed to hit the target.

The Second Half

Once again Leicester came out attacking, and with less than two minutes gone they worked up a nice chance for Praet, but the midfielder’s low shot was saved well by Pope. Burnley returned the threat immediately as Taylor found the head of Wood in the air some seven yards from Schmeichel’s goal, but the ball went just over the bar.

The game was much more open at this point. Both teams attacked and the ball traveled fast from one end to the other. Still, there were no clear-cut chances (apart from that of Praet earlier). Burnley now mostly went wide in search of a cross from either side, and after once such move down the right earned them a corner in the 56th minute, Mee headed on target from six yards and Schmeichel barely kept it out, only for Wood to slam in the rebound.

1-1.

Of course, the lead being dropped annoyed the Leicester players greatly. They now attacked with more energy, but their lines consequently became further apart and and their touch of the ball less good. It enabled Burnley to hit back frequently, and both teams suddenly looked quite capable of scoring at any moment.

A fierce battle was unfolding between Maddison on one side and Beardsley on the other, and the Burnley fullback was lucky to escape being booked having fouled the Leicester midfielder three times in quick succession.

But as time went on, the line of the battle was moving gradually towards Schmeichel, with Hendrick now looking very lively on the right flank for the Clarets. Both Evans and Soyuncu were often forced to help Ricardo stop the Burnley midfielder.

And yet, in the 67th minute, Leicester broke forward suddenly and Barnes again got the better of Mee, leaving the defender with no choice but to bring him down. Referee Anthony Taylor was in no doubt as he blew the whistle and pointed to the spot, and booked the Burnley captain.

Jamie Vardy stepped up and saw his penalty well read and stopped by Pope, leaving the scoreline unchanged.

The moment obviously injected energy into the veins of Burnley players and they forced the Foxes well back. With 20 minutes to go, they won a free-kick around 30 yards out down the middle, but Westwood’s effort hit the wall. From the ensuing corner Leicester hit on the break, but a magnificent interception by Mee stopped the final pass which would have otherwise seen Vardy clean through.

Rodgers then moved to turn up the volume with some fresh legs. Kelechi Iheanacho and Youri Tielemans came on in the places of Perez and Praet.

The changes were followed by a few minutes of strong pressure from the Foxes during which Maddison tried his luck from range twice to no effect, just like Mendy after him. In the 78th minute, Iheanacho set Vardy up with a great through pass, but Pope was the hero once again as he positioned himself exactly in the way of Vardy’s shot.

And as Burnley subsequently pushed Leicester back again and attacked, a cross from the left by Taylor wasn’t dealt with properly by Evans and Westwood ran onto it, slamming into the bottom corner from 10 yards.

2-1.

It seemed harsh on Leicester to see their lead overturned like that, especially on Evans who up to that moment played a fantastic game, but it just goes to show how ruthless the game can be.

Leicester’s efforts now became desperate and their control of the ball nervy. They tried unreasonable shots a few times from distance, even when it was obvious that the ball wouldn’t get past the first obstacle. Even Soyuncu had a go from ‘down town’, but his rocket went high over the bar. The Clarets, on the other hand, looked to slow the play down as much as they could, even risking being booked a few times for time-wasting, though the referee made it known he would make up the lost time at the end.

In the last second of the 90, Ricardo did extremely well coming into Burnley’s box down the right and he tried to employ one of the two teammates on the far posts, but Tarkowski cleared it in the last possible moment.

In the stoppage time, Aaron Lennon came on for the home side instead of Wood. The last chance of the game fell to Evans as he jumped high to try and hit the target with a header from a Maddison corner, but the ball went over the bar.

The Afterthought

What started out as a dull affair and threatened to end that way too, even after the opening goal, turned into a very exciting contest in the second half as Burnley rediscovered their fighting spirit and gathered the strength to turn the game completely on its head. The saves by Nick Pope, not just from Vardy’s penalty, made just as much difference as the goals scored by Wood and Westwood.

Not much can be put at the expenses of Leicester players. They simply failed to recognize the upsurge in desire in their opponents in the second half and it cost them dearly.

These three points are very important for Burnley at this moment as they strive to secure survival and to climb back up the ladder as far as they can. In their bid to secure Champions League football for next season the Foxes will have to look elsewhere, and leave Turf Moor with heads bowed.

Match Report

BURNLEY: Pope 8, Mee 7.5, Tarkowski 7.5, Beardsley 7, Taylor 7, Cork 6, Westwood 7, Hendrick 7.5, McNeil 6, Wood 7 (90′ Lennon N/A), Rodriguez 7.

LEICESTER CITY: Schmeichel 7, Evans 7.5, Soyuncu 7.5, Ricardo 7.5, Fuchs 6, Mendy 6, Praet 6.5 (74′ Tielemans 7), Maddison 7, Barnes 7.5, Perez 6 (74′ Iheanacho 6), Vardy 6.5.

GOALS: H. Barnes 33′, Wood 56′, Westwood 79′.

YELLOW CARD: Mee 67′.

REFEREE: Anthony Taylor.

DATE & VENUE: January 19, 2020, Turf Moor, Burnley.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on four different football blogs.

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