Burnley’s match with Fulham was understandably postponed last weekend as the Cottagers dealt with an outbreak of Covid-19 in their squad, but the lack of action slowed the momentum that Sean Dyche’s side have been building in recent months. Burnley have worked wonders to turn their season around following a slow start.
They failed to win any of their opening seven league matches, picking up just two points from the first available 21, and it looked as if their time in the Premier League could be coming to an end. However, they rallied after the November international break and have picked up 14 points from their last eight games, which is the sixth best return in the division in that time, and three more than Tottenham or Chelsea (both 11). Burnley have lost just two of their last nine games: their customary 5-0 hammering at the Etihad and a narrow 1-0 defeat at Leeds from which they will feel they deserved a point. It’s easy to pinpoint exactly where Burnley’s fortunes changed for the better following their disastrous start.
Ben Mee missed the opening six league games of the season with a thigh injury, returning for the goalless draw with Brighton before the November international break. Since coming back into the side alongside James Tarkowski at the heart of the defence, the solidity Burnley are renowned for has returned. Burnley have only conceded eight goals in their last nine games with Mee in the team – and five of those goals came against City. In the six games he missed, Burnley were shipping two goals per game, but that figure has dropped to 0.89 with Mee in the team. With their captain back, Burnley have beaten Arsenal and Wolves as well as holding high-flying Everton and Aston Villa to draws.
The understanding Mee has established with Tarkowski and Nick Pope at the back has been crucial as Burnley have consolidated themselves as a solid Premier League side following their return to the top flight in 2016. He is our highest rated player in the Burnley squad this season, with his proactive approach to defending proving transformational for his team. He has made 4.9 clearances for every 90 minutes he has been on the pitch, which is more than any other Burnley player this season. Only six regular centre-backs in the league have made more clearances per 90 minutes.
The 31-year-old has a knack for being in the right place at the right time to prevent opponents from getting shots off. He has made 1.8 interceptions per 90 minutes, the 10th best for all centre-backs in the league. With Burnley seeing little of the ball – their possession average of 42.9% is the fourth lowest in the Premier League – his ability to read the game denies opponents the chance to get behind the team’s deep defence and makes it incredibly difficult for opponents to break Burnley down, particularly once they take the lead in games.
It’s impossible to overstate Mee’s importance to this Burnley side. They were bottom of the table after seven games but are now five points clear of the relegation zone, with two games in hand over most of the clubs around them in the table. Much of that rise away from danger has been down to the captain. Dyche will be hoping he won’t have to make do without Mee for another prolonged period over the course of the season.