Premier League restart preview No 5: Burnley | Football

What was the situation like when the league was suspended on 13 March? Burnley were in buoyant mood going into lockdown, they had just held Tottenham at home to extend their league unbeaten run to seven games, a sequence which contained impressive victories over Manchester United, Leicester and Southampton. In 10th place and just a point shy of the 40-point mark normally regarded as necessary for survival, Burnley had put relegation concerns behind them and begun to look upwards towards the Europa League places.

The solidity shown in the first few months of the year was all the more impressive for being accomplished without their usual leading scorer and talisman Ashley Barnes, who had a hernia operation around Christmas. Barnes is hoping to resume playing when the season restarts but will be aware Chris Wood and Jay Rodriguez have formed an effective partnership in his absence. Rodriguez picked up an injury just before lockdown but claims the break has worked in his favour.

What about now? Sean Dyche has a fit squad but is concerned some of his fringe players, such as Phil Bardsley, would be out of contract but for the club offering extensions of a month to cope with the interrupted season. Some players, such as Aaron Lennon and Joe Hart, are expected to be allowed to leave when the season finally ends but Dyche would like to keep Jeff Hendrick in the face of interest from Celtic, and also the 34-year-old Bardsley. Burnley are well known for running a tight ship but the manager feels the club could be a little more generous when trying to secure the futures of established players he regards as important members of the squad.

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What needs to be done to have a successful end to the season? A Europa League place is theoretically within Burnley’s grasp, although it would be quite a stretch. Completing a climb into the European positions would be a considerable achievement for a team that spent the last three months of the suspended season in the bottom half. Given their unhappy experience with Europa League fixtures two years ago, most fans would happily settle for remaining where they are now. Considering the huge financial inequality within the Premier League, what Burnley do every year is amazing in itself. They are a model of efficiency and a beacon of hope to every club trying to fight their way out of the Championship. How long it can last is an annual guessing game but next season will be their fifth consecutive top-flight campaign and Dyche will be approaching a decade in charge. According to their manager, the club’s main ambition is simply to be regarded as an established Premier League club and that goal is now in sight.

Have players and staff behaved during lockdown? No headline-grabbing breaches to speak of. Like everyone else, Burnley players found training at home boring and frustrating but there was plenty of praise for the way the fitness staff kept in touch remotely to provide targets and motivation.

Any unsung/community heroes? Burnley already had strong community links before the pandemic. Once matches were suspended the squad made a financial donation to local food banks, and Ben Mee and Jack Cork were among the first players to contact isolated and vulnerable individuals to offer support over the telephone.

Key player in the run-in? Ashley Westwood is Burnley’s quiet achiever in midfield, Dwight McNeil on the left their most prized attacking asset, though a lot of their success this season has been based on the reliability of Nick Pope in goal. The England international has frustrated opponents and effectively ended the argument over whether Hart should return.

End-of-season prediction Tenth. Burnley have only the league to worry about, having gone out of the FA Cup early, and can stay ahead of the bottom half without necessarily worrying the teams with real designs on Europe.

James Tarkowski in training.

James Tarkowski in training. Photograph: AndyFord/Burnley FC

Remaining fixtures (all times BST): Mon 22 June Manchester City (a) 8pm, Sky Sports Thur 25 June Watford (h) 6pm, Sky Sports Mon 29 June Crystal Palace (a) 8pm, Amazon Prime TBC Sheffield United (h), West Ham (a), Liverpool (a), Wolves (h), Norwich (a), Brighton (h).

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