Burnley, the Premier League surprise package

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

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?”

Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui admits future in doubt ahead of Champions League clash

Updated 14 min 56 sec ago

Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui admits future in doubt ahead of Champions League clash

  • Real Madrid have lost four out their past five matches and have suffered the longest goal drought in their history.
  • Lopetegui admits he may be out of a job before this weekend's El Clasico against arch-rivals Barcelona.

MADRID: Julen Lopetegui has said he will fight to turn Real Madrid’s stuttering season around but could not guarantee he will be in charge for the Clasico against Barcelona on Sunday.

Lopetegui’s future is in doubt just four months after swapping the Spanish national team for Madrid on the eve of the World Cup.

His side face Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League on Tuesday, on the back of five games without a win and having lost all of their last three.

“What I’ve learned about this club is to fight, that is the DNA of this club,” Lopetegui said at a press conference on Monday.

“That’s what we’re going to do, fight, both the players and the coaching staff. We know results haven’t been great but we are going to turn this around. We are going to fight.”

Asked if he knew that he would be in the dug-out when Madrid visit Camp Nou this weekend, Lopetegui said: “I’m here now, that’s all I can say. I am the coach at this moment.

“If you ask me what is going to happen in a month or a year, I can’t tell you. We’re focused on the present.”

Madrid’s poor run has left them seventh in La Liga while defeat to CSKA Moscow in the Champions League last month sees them sitting third in Group G.

Key players have offered their support to Lopetegui. Captain Sergio Ramos has said it would be “crazy” to change coach so early in the season while Marcelo insisted the team was “with him to the death” after Saturday’s loss at home to Levante.

“The players are strong,” Lopetegui said.

“They are champions not by coincidence, but because they are strong.

“They have had bad times and bad moments but they have a lot of strength. They don’t get to be champions by believing everything they hear.”