Burnley, the Premier League surprise package

Burnley celebrate their winning goal against Stoke City on Tuesday night. (AP)
Updated 14 December 2017
0

Burnley, the Premier League surprise package

MANCHESTER: Two seasons after Leicester's improbable title triumph, another soccer fairytale might be unfolding in the English Premier League.
They are unlikely to emulate Leicester in winning the league, but the players and coach of unfashionable northwest club Burnley are starting to dream of playing in the Champions League next season.
Burnley scored an 89th-minute goal to beat Stoke 1-0 on Tuesday and climb temporarily into the top four of England's top flight for the first time since March 1975.
A supposed candidate for relegation after selling two of its best players in the offseason, Burnley have won nine of their 17 games, conceded just 12 goals, and are four points behind Chelsea and Manchester United. They have already beaten Chelsea away, and drawn at Tottenham and Liverpool.
“Leicester blew the roof off the dreams of football,” Burnley manager Sean Dyche said. “Now, no bold statements from me about that, by the way, I must make that clear. But there’s an open-mindedness to the group.
“If you are going to dream, you have to be prepared to make the dreams come true. That’s what we are trying to do.”
A founding member of the Football League in 1888 and the English champion in 1921 and 1960, Burnley hasn’t finished a season higher than sixth place since 1974. A downturn saw the club drop out of the top division for 33 years and, in 1987, almost fall out of the professional leagues.
Burnley are in their second season back in the top flight, having avoided relegation only because of its strong home form. Now it is hard to beat home or away, with Dyche molding a hard-working, well-organized and defensively compact team.
All this after selling defender Michael Keane and striker Andre Gray for a combined $65 million over the summer, helping the club return a profit of about $20 million when most of the rest of the Premier League was spending freely.
“I keep reality because this division will eat you alive,” said Dyche, who was a no-nonsense center back as a player and is one of the characters of the Premier League with his distinctive gravel-toned voice. “We’re having a real go at what we can achieve this season. I’m not being negative. I’m a realist. There’s a lot of challenges coming our way. The fans and the town have got to enjoy these times. Why wouldn’t you?”
 


'We want to make Saudi Arabia proud': Pizzi promises better showing against Egypt

Updated 45 min 2 sec ago
0

'We want to make Saudi Arabia proud': Pizzi promises better showing against Egypt

  • Saudi Arabia cannot progress from Group A even if they defeat Egypt in their final game on Monday
  • Wednesday’s overall performance was much improved, yet a lack of penetrative passing was obvious

ROSTOV-ON-DON: “Keeping possession of the ball seems to be the absolute and most important thing, but then when you sometimes find issues in getting the ball into your opponent’s half, you have to find other movements and ways of doing that,” said Oscar Tabarez after watching his lackluster Uruguay rely on a solitary Luis Suarez goal to eliminate Saudi Arabia from the World Cup. 
Tabarez was talking about his own team’s struggles, yet the assessment is considerably more applicable to the Green Falcons, who dominated possession and retained the ball with ease in midfield, yet for the second match running looked absolutely bereft of ideas in the final third. With Uruguay and Russia now on six points, Saudi Arabia cannot progress from Group A even if they defeat Egypt in their final game on Monday.
The Green Falcons coach Juan Antonio Pizzi confirmed he intends to stay at the helm of the side for the long-haul, yet is only too aware that the potential of this team is being hamstrung by its inability to score. He called it “our weakness”, adding that his side enjoyed “good ball possession, but no effectiveness”. They, he said, did not have the sufficient “weapons or tools” to equalize.
Pizzi’s side have found the net now just twice in their past five games and against Uruguay managed only three shots on target in 90 minutes — two of which came in added time and were so tame they would hardly have troubled the opposition goalkeeper Fernando Muslera had he been relaxing at his far post sipping a drink. In the 5-0 defeat to Russia last week, they failed to muster a single shot on target. 
Wednesday’s overall performance was much improved, yet a lack of penetrative passing was obvious. One passage of play in the opening exchanges saw Saudi Arabia complete 16 passes untroubled without the ball entering the opposition penalty box. When Uruguay finally won possession, they required only four quick exchanges to find Edinson Cavani on the left wing drilling the ball across the front of goal. 
“I don’t share that assessment,” said Pizzi, when it was put to him that his team was too slow to attack. “We played at the speed that was necessary. We need to be accurate, but if you step up the speed you lose accuracy with your passes. We had control of the game and that was why.”
Striker Mohammed Al-Sahlawi had been the focal point of much criticism from Turki Al-Sheikh, the head of Saudi’s General Sports Authority, after the Russia “fiasco” and was dropped from the side against Uruguay. So too was goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf, another who Al-Sheikh name-checked as having been at fault.
Pizzi, asked whether the scathing assessment from his bosses had forced his hand when it came to team selection, calmly dismissed the suggestion. He also ruled out the notion that administrative issues between the players and the country’s football federation had caused unrest in his squad.
“I have a list of 23 players here and they are all available to play. We are here together and pushing in the same direction. 
“I wanted — and still want — to make the Saudi Arabian people feel proud of our energy and the desire we show in matches. Unfortunately we were unable to do that against Russia and will be playing our next match without any hope of progressing. I hope now they will feel a little more proud even though we are out of the World Cup,” he said.