Would Dyche's gatecrashing tactics at Burnley suit a Premier League giant?
Take a quick glance at the top of the Premier League table, and all seems roughly as you'd expect: Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool are filling six of the top seven positions.
There's one exception, however. Burnley -- expected to finish somewhere in the bottom half -- find themselves in sixth position, ahead of Liverpool on goal difference.
This represents a truly remarkable start to the campaign for Sean Dyche's side, particularly considering the nature of their fixtures. Their seven matches have featured four away trips to Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton. Somehow, Burnley have recorded two victories and two draws from those matches, and eight away points is already more than they collected on their travels throughout 2016-17.
Inevitably, Dyche has been linked with bigger jobs. Burnley's 1-0 victory at Goodison Park prompted suggestions he could replace Ronald Koeman at struggling Everton, while a couple of pundits have suggested he could succeed at Arsenal. But Dyche's Burnley are playing an entirely different brand of football from the big boys, and therefore it's almost impossible to forecast how he might perform with a considerably more talented squad.
Dyche's achievements at Burnley are unquestionably hugely impressive; two promotions from the Championship, sandwiching a Premier League season when Burnley took few risks in the transfer market, meaning Dyche was competing with a substandard squad. He focused on defence, and 10 clean sheets was a fine record.
Burnley went down, regrouped and upon their next attempt at the Premier League, last season, were rarely in danger of a second demotion. It was a simple approach: 4-4-2, deep defending and direct attacking.
This season's approach remains largely similar, albeit in a 4-5-1 system. Various statistics from Burnley's campaign provide a fair summary of their strategy: they're in the bottom five Premier League sides in terms of possession and pass completion, but win the most aerial duels in the division.
Defensively, they've conceded more shots than any other side -- and while they don't make many tackles or interceptions, they're recording huge figures in terms of blocking opposition shots -- 61 so far, 20 clear of their nearest challengers.
This Premier League campaign is only seven games old, of course, and these statistics are skewed by Burnley's tough fixture list so far, making them seem unreasonably rudimentary. Burnley are a well-organised, defensive-minded side with good defenders in fine form and the midfield protecting them solidly. But this is a team based around heading and blocking.
This works perfectly well for Burnley, but recent history suggests Dyche's approach would be incompatible with a big club. Look at the experience of Roy Hodgson, who worked wonders with Fulham but found his safety-first, negative strategy -- and demeanour -- hugely unpopular from the outset at Liverpool, and ultimately unsuccessful too. David Moyes, who established Everton as a regular top-half side with a largely reactive, structured system, was similarly unable to adjust to the attacking demands of coaching Manchester United. His new side adapted to Moyes' Everton blueprint, and recorded Everton-esque results.
Two success stories, meanwhile, have seen forward-thinking coaches enjoying success at bigger clubs, having previously impressed with positive football. Brendan Rodgers based his Swansea side around relentless possession play, and after moving to Liverpool, he took them to the brink of their first Premier League title with attacking football -- albeit more direct play than he initially intended. Mauricio Pochettino's Southampton side were all about heavy pressing, and the Argentine has taken Tottenham to their two highest Premier League finishes since joining in 2014.
It's worth considering that, in pure results terms, Hodgson and Moyes had performed better than Rodgers and Pochettino. Hodgson had taken Fulham to seventh and then the Europa League final, Moyes regularly finished in the top seven too, peaking with fourth place in 2005. In comparison, Pochettino's much-vaunted Southampton side only finished eighth. Rodgers' Swansea side came 11th; a fine debut campaign, but hardly threatening the big boys. The style of their coaching, however, was more immediately transferrable to a big club, which explains why managers like Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce, despite recording impressive league finishes, are eternally overlooked for big jobs.
Is Dyche in that category, alongside Pulis and Allardyce? Well, Burnley have evolved slightly. The summer signing of the underrated Jack Cork means Burnley deploy a reliable passing midfielder in every game, while they've played some neat passing combinations down the flanks. They've mixed patient build-up with direct play; there was plenty of focus upon the "24-pass move" that resulted in Jeff Hendrick's winner against Everton, but these 24 passes included a booming 50-yard crossfield ball followed by a hopeful cross, with Burnley inevitably winning that aerial battle to keep the move going.
There's little evidence, though, that Dyche's system is compatible with top-class technical players. He hasn't attempted to recruit an explosive centre-forward who might lack defensive discipline, but contributes outstanding moments in the final third. He seemingly has little interest in playing an outright playmaker to roam between the lines.
Yes, Burnley's budget is relatively limited, but Dyche has spent more than £10 million three times since Burnley's promotion 18 months ago: buying bustling forward Chris Wood, technical utility man Robbie Brady and scheming box-to-box player Hendrick. All three have fitted in excellently, all are good footballers, but a manager with Champions League ambitions would be a little braver.
Ultimately, it would be a huge leap of faith for a big side to appoint Dyche. Even Everton, for example, have a squad overloaded with No. 10s; what would Dyche do with them? We simply don't know, and while Dyche would doubtless make the Allardyce-esque claim that his sides would play better football if he had better players, until we see evidence, he can't reasonably have a claim to one of those jobs.
A switch to a midtable club remains a realistic goal, but it's worth considering how many of these clubs demand "good" football too; Dyche wouldn't fit in at Stoke, who have deliberately moved away from Pulis' approach, or West Ham, still peculiarly fixated upon the idea their club traditionally play good football. Even Bournemouth and Swansea have built themselves around positive play.
There seems only one obvious option: Leicester, whose defensive-minded, counter-attacking mentality would fit nicely. Otherwise, Dyche might be better staying put; for as long as Burnley remain in the top half, his reputation will continue to grow.
Michael Cox is the editor of zonalmarking.net and a contributor to ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Zonal_Marking.