TL/DR Burnley are better than they were and we will probably lose, which is a shame because we’re running out of games
So this weekend’s game is important. Fans throw around ‘must win’ far too much and this isn’t a ‘must win’ game by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a ‘it’d be really good to win if possible’ because of the state of the bottom of the table. I can harp on all I want about how this isn’t an awful squad but the bald facts are that there aren’t many games left in which to earn points. If there were no relegation this Fulham squad would surely surprise people next year, but in this league there is relegation and with that all kinds of unfortunate dynamics. You don’t just get to say “well, we have a good squad and I back us to come straight back up” because there’s a load of financial and psychological mess that comes with relegation. So. Points are needed, and points against relegation rivals are important. A draw would probably be good in that sense.
Burnley are a weird team. They’ve outperformed expectations every season they’ve been in the top division, and indeed, have had a funny knack of outperforming even the advanced stats that tend to give a good measure of teams’ real quality (the league table does lie!).
Anyway, a few notes:
Burnley were doing very badly for a long time but have picked up of late
This may or may not be because of Dwight McNeil, a young player who’s come in and played very well in the last few games, during which time Burnley’s results have 180d. Whoscored has a summary on him here, and I guess it’s a minor worry in that he’s playing well and doing so wide on the left. This feels like an area where Fulham have been quite vulnerable, so in that sense it’s something to look out for and an area for the whites to be concentrating on. Christie and Odoi are both decent players to my mind, but that channel, for whatever reason, does seem to be exploitable by opposing players.
Whoscored tells us that Burnley are good in the air, and at protecting the lead. They play long balls, cross often, and are quite aggressive. Against that, they are bad at keeping the ball and concede a lot of chances, particularly down the wings. They also allow a lot of long shots, which might mean we want to play Schurrle or we want to keep Schurrle on the bench lest temptation sees a barrage of ambitious long range punts from our optimistic friend.
The other point worth noting is that we’ll probably lose. It’s an away game against an approximately equivalent team. So by definition, a defeat is the most likely outcome. It just is, and it doesn’t mean that the players don’t want it enough or that even now they aren’t burning with pride. Jonathan Wilson in the Guardian was quite interesting on this, talking about Solskjaer vs Mourinho at United. In any case, I think he’s right. Battle is battle, but the manager needs to unlock the potential in what he has. Sean Dyche has proven he can do this with his current Burnley squad, but I guess we haven’t seen the first great performance from Ranieri’s Fulham. It probably won’t be this Saturday either, but we can hope, can’t we?