First off, I credit both managers for playing the game the way they should have. Dyche knew his only chance was to clog up Kane and Son, hope that his side could defend against crosses and longballs that strategy would provoke, and rely on a second ball springing free Wood or Barnes or a set-piece screw-up from us. It almost got him the one point he wanted, and could have resulted in the three he dreamed of.
But Jose wasn’t about flair tonight, either. By leaving Aurier, Reguilon and Lo Celso on the bench or home in London, he was telling Dyche “Fine. Play the Burnley way. We won’t concede and eventually the quality of my players, two in particular, will make the difference”. And on a night when both of those players were a tick off throughout the game—touches, runs, passes, blocked shots—eventually, our manager was proved right. A great flicked header by Kane to Son for the simple response and we had a much needed, if not fully deserved, victory. And here’s the thing. We lay two points from the top of the table—with the best goal difference in the league—and with the knowledge that only a bizarre refereeing decision plus one twelve-minute horror show ending in a wonder goal cost us four points that would have us clear at the moment. Which, given the Van Dijk injury, may be where we belong and might soon occupy anyway.
As for a desultory first half, the less said the better. Understanding there was method to Jose’s madness, I found the combination of Davies and Doherty on the two wings, and Sissoko and Hojgberg in the middle, stultifying. Nothing creative was going to come from any of them—with one ineffectual cross after another and an attack bereft of either ambition or ideas. I simply hoped to avoid the deadly giveaway that would hand Burnley the game.
I thought the Dane, in particular, was suffering through a near-mare of a game although once we did breakthrough, I was happy to still see him on the pitch to see the game out. Joe Rodon is huge, btw!! MOTM is a con flip between the two centre-halves—I lean toward Toby if only because Dier made a horrific decision to try a reverse kick in the second half before the goal that was only saved from disaster by Chris Wood’s outstretched elbow. But they both were solid all night, as was Lloris on the late series of corners we conceded.
Tanguy never got the glory tonight, but I am really warming to the sight of him on the pitch. It was he after a fine forward ball from Hojgberg that found Son for what should have been the winner but Soony dallied and the defender made a very nice sliding tackle. There was a moment in the midst of the final frustration before the goal where Doherty—for once—sent a nice ball through the defence to a leaping Ndombele who made an exquisite back heel flick that if any of our other forwards had bothered to run could easily have produced the winner and a highlight for the ages. Lamela and Lo Celso added some proper Argentine steel and energy to help produce the play that produced the goal. Both Kane and Son suffered from the Burnley set-up but were also uncharacteristically off in many touches or situations where we’ve come to expect more. But they’re human—and after the type of play they’ve produced the last two months, they’re entitled to an off night. Especially when they still produce the magic necessary to win the points. Did I say Joe Rodon is huge? Because he is. And Harry standing firm heading Tarkowski’s ball off the line was exemplary.
Our next two opponents played the first game tonight and neither look as imposing as the Clarets were on their home turf. You can never assume in the league but I anticipate Spurs will have reached 17 points and stand no worse than third by the time we host City and then go to the Bridge in the first week after the next international break. Something very special is brewing this season—of that there can be little doubt. We are two points from top, in the quarter finals of the League Cup playing Stoke next, on top of our Europa Group stage and current favourites to win that competition. And with a squad deep enough to progress in the other cup competition once it kicks off in January pending the luck of the draw. After a season where we were for all intents and purposes eliminated from three chances at trophies by year’s end, it is nice to see four firmly in view. Why not snatch them all?
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