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Aug 4, 2014

Premier League Preview: Burnley

The FC crew previews Burnley's first campaign in the Premier League since the 2009-10 season.

Lessons from last season

Burnley were the surprise package of the Championship last season, with few predicting promotion. But a great start refused to fizzle out, and although the team had a couple of mini-wobbles, Sean Dyche's side were relentless and completed a historic campaign in style.

The Clarets will be hoping their rapid pressing and fast transitions will work just as well in the Premier League as they did last season, although there will be a need to tighten up defensively from set pieces, which was a rare area that could be improved towards the end of the season.

Burnley were the fittest team in the Championship last year and will look to be the same again at a higher level. The Clarets will certainly compete physically, but with classy ballplayers like David Jones and Danny Ings on the team, Burnley are far from a kick-and-rush-style outfit.

There is a tendency to be direct at times, but the Clarets will look to get the ball forward with targeted long passes from captain Jason Shackell rather than aimless punts up the field.

Predicted starting lineup

Burnley
Two banks of four will help the Clarets stem the flow in the new season.

What's new?

We are! Last time Burnley were in the Premier League, five years ago, they got plenty of praise for the pretty passing shown in early home wins over big guns like Manchester United and Everton. But Owen Coyle's team was poor defensively and took heavy beatings on the road with worrying regularity. Coyle's departure midseason ripped the confidence out of the club, and Burnley ended up easily relegated after bizarrely appointing Brian Laws.

Burnley have added strength in depth to last season's squad, although it's arguable that none of the additions improve the side. Michael Kightly's loan has been converted into a permanent deal, and he will keep his place in the team, while Lukas Jutkiewicz will fill in until Sam Vokes is fit. Free transfers Steven Reid, Matt Taylor and Matt Gilks have added strong cover.

There may be general concerns about a lack of overall quality, but Dyche has proven he can polish a rough diamond, and Scott Arfield -- cast out by Huddersfield Town last summer -- showed there are bargains out there by contributing nine goals from midfield last year. Marvin Sordell may surprise a few people as he looks to rebuild his career after a disastrous move to Bolton.

PREMIER LEAGUE PREVIEWS

As we count down to kickoff on Aug. 16, ESPN FC previews all 20 teams in this season's competition. Can Burnley, QPR and Leicester stay up? Will the new signings of Alexis Sanchez, Diego Costa and Adam Lallana help usurp Man City's crown? Will Manchester United get back on track under Louis van Gaal?

Strengths

Fitness and teamwork have been the main pillars of Burnley's success under Dyche. The Clarets played the same XI most weeks in the Championship, and a settled side was key, with everyone knowing their jobs inside out. A strong work ethic and rock-solid team unity will also keep heads up when times get tough.

Burnley have one of the country's brightest young talents in Ings, and after scoring 26 goals last season, all eyes will be on him to see how he adjusts to the higher level. Kieran Trippier is another rising star. The dynamic right-back is Burnley's main creative threat with his crossing ability, whether the centres are from deep or from the byline after beating a man with his samba skills.

Burnley had a supremely mean defence last season, led by skipper Shackell. How they cope with the tests the Premier League poses will be a major factor in whether the Clarets are able to prove the doubters wrong and survive against the odds.

Weaknesses

Pinpointing Burnley's weaknesses is tough after an overwhelmingly positive season last time out. However, there is a lack of pace throughout the squad, and rapid attacks are likely to provide a serious test to a defence that currently features long-serving veteran Michael Duff, who turns 37 in January.

There isn't a great deal of Premier League experience within the squad, although Dyche has added Matthew Taylor and Reid in a bid to improve that department. Their know-how is likely to be key. Last time Burnley were in the Premier League, a lack of experience was one of the main reasons for our relegation.

Goals could be hard to come by if Ings doesn't take off in the Premier League. With his backup including Ashley Barnes, Sordell and Jutkiewicz, the Clarets aren't likely to be prolific. Burnley will be the weakest club financially in the division by a distance, but a small budget didn't get in its way last season.

Sean Dyche will have a tough job to do, but he is more than capable of the task.

Manager - ESPN FC profile

After a testing first few months at Turf Moor, Sean Dyche has proved that he's the real deal. Anyone who gets an unfancied team to the Premier League in only their second full season as a manager, spending only 450,000 pounds to do so, obviously is something special.

Dyche played for Brian Clough very early in his career, and while any comparison would be stretching matters, it's clear Dyche learned a lot from the experience. He can be a bad loser and isn't afraid to air his frustration with refereeing decisions if they go against his team. That said, the Clarets were on the end of some real stinkers last season.

We haven't seen a lot of Dyche's work in the transfer market yet, as this is the first time he's had cash to spend, but last year he brought in Jones, Arfield and Tom Heaton on frees, so he can obviously spot a bargain.

Dyche seems like a genuinely honest and decent bloke, and as long as he doesn't desert us for a rival midseason, Burnley fans will always regard him as a club legend for his achievements.

ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN Stats & Information

Key player

Danny Ings. With Vokes not likely to feature until Christmas, the goal-scoring burden is going to fall heavily on the young forward's shoulders.

Ings is a serious talent with rapid feet and a sharp turn of pace that may embarrass some of the Premier League's big-name defenders. He scores all types of goals but is far from a pure goal scorer, as he creates plenty for the team as well. Ings will always look to be in the thick of the action and will play off Jutkiewicz, who is the traditional target man in this brand-new partnership.

Ings is in the last year of his contract and appears to be content with playing out his final year at Burnley, but a strong first half of the season will see him in demand when the January transfer window opens. However, Ings might prefer to stay put and take his pick of clubs next summer. A call-up for England will follow.

Predicted finish: 18th

Burnley will be competitive in most matches, but staying up would be a remarkable achievement. However, Burnley have earned their right to play in the Premier League, and a defeatist attitude will not help. Fans and players alike have to believe that Burnley belong.

This will be the Clarets' second season in the Premier League in the last five years, so any talk of "punching above their weight" ought to be banished. But realistically, with a budget as small as this, against some of the richest clubs in the world and the best players on the planet, it's going to be very tough to avoid finishing in the bottom three.

Unless some impressive late arrivals are bought before the transfer window slams shut, it's difficult to predict anything better than a gallant struggle with some eye-catching performances and wins, before relegation.

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