Season player grades: Who is top of the class?

The challenges for which all Burnley fans longed just over a year ago proved to be too much for the squad this season.

While there were moments of inspiration and pure magic, the learning curve that Premier League football presented this season was just too steep and has immediately dispatched the Clarets back to Championship football in August. The players that return next season will undoubtedly be stronger and much improved for having experienced Premier League football this year.

Here are my final Burnley FC player grades for the 2014-15 season:

Manager – Sean Dyche (A-)

The ultimate pragmatist, Dyche possibly did better than anyone else could have, given the size of the club and budget. As expected, he won many admirers and much respect this season. Rarely uses his allocation of substitutes and often makes those changes too late in the match. Despite this, Sean is clearly the man for the job and the club should do all it can to extend his contract.

GK – Tom Heaton (B+)

Impressively, Tom played every single minute in the league this season, while earning a very respectable 10 clean sheets, deservedly earning himself an England call-up. Conceded 53 goals this season, the same number as 5th-placed Tottenham Hotspur. Awarded Players’ Player of the year honors this week. Heaton is a very consistent goalkeeper and not prone to making spectacular saves, but he is very composed and rarely makes mistakes. This results in a calm and settled back five for Burnley.

CB – Jason Shackell (A-)

Player of the year last season for many and my player of the season for this. Averaged over 11 clearances a match this campaign. A true warrior and general for the club on the park and played nearly every minute this season. The Clarets developed a reputation of being difficult to break down this season and tirelessly throw themselves in front of shots, seeking a block; Jason Shackell embodies this mentality. With one year left on his contract and no financial need to sell, Burnley would do well to retain the captain’s services. Former manager Eddie Howe and AFC Bournemouth may have their eye on Shacks as the second tier winners look to bolster their squad for Premier League football in August.

CB – Michael Duff (B-)

Missed a portion of the winter months due to injury and added stability at the back and a stronger aerial presence upon his return. Burnley’s longest serving player and the only member of the squad from both Premier League seasons. Duff’s veteran legs often lack pace, but he serves as an important veteran head along the back line as young Michael Keane waits as Burnley’s centre half of the future.

LB – Ben Mee (C+)

Much improved from the start of this season to the finish. Excellent in the air and does well bombing forward to swing in crosses. Can often be found wanting defensively and lacks pace. Lost his job mid-season to Stephen Ward until an ankle injury forced Ward out of the side again. Burnley have two very capable left-backs at Championship level as they look ahead to next season.

RB – Kieran Trippier (B+)

A truly gifted player and up to Premier League standard, many consider Kieran a future right back for England. Does very well defensively and has improved in his defensive duties this season. A massive threat bombing forward on the wing and pinging in balls from the run of play or on set pieces. Provider for many of Burnley’s goals and scoring opportunities and ranks high among defenders in the league’s Player Performance Index week in and week out as well. While Kieran is a local lad and under a longer-term contract, the Clarets will have to fend off the wolves this summer to retain his services for a return to the Football League.

CM – David Jones (C+)

Ever-present for the Clarets at the centre of the park and Burnley’s metronome. Most activity is distributed through Dave and he is one of the best passers of the ball on the team. Jones lacks pace though and is prone to making mistakes and turning over the ball at the centre of the park. Has not been up to Premier League standard for much of the season and has not been clinical enough in his finishing whilst going forward.

CM – Scott Arfield (B-)

A vital piece in the puzzle for seasons to come for the Clarets. Scotty is under a long-term contract and at 26 still has years left on his legs. Traditionally plays on the wing but was forced to centre after the untimely injury to Dean Marney. Only contributed two goals this season from midfield and seems to have lost confidence to attempt long-range efforts on goal. Can be found missing in matches and has lost his legs near the tail of the last two seasons.

LM – Matt Taylor (B)

Unlucky to miss most of the season due to an Achilles injury. Matty has been instrumental when appearing for the club though and is often Burnley’s best player when he steps on the park. By far, he possesses the most Premier League experience of the starting XI and oozes quality and composure in a side that lacks established top-flight football. Has seen promotion twice in his long career and would be key for the Clarets to hold on to him as they attempt to yo-yo across the top two divisions.

RM – George Boyd (B+)

The best signing for Burnley this season and many fans’ player of the season. The club equaled their record signing amount to secure his services and he has been excellent, scoring five goals from the wing. Lacks searing pace, but on a weekly basis leads the league in distance run. His effort and commitment to the cause is second-to-none. Burnley may face a challenge to retain him this summer.

ST – Ashley Barnes (B-)

Another workmanlike season for Ashley and actually started the year off the bench as the third-choice striker. Much like last season, he has not scored many goals, but they are often very timely in helping the Clarets capture points. Scrappy and relentless off the ball, holds up play well for teammates, but has not been clinical enough in his finishing to meet Premier League standard. Will be a better player next season for having gained the experience from this year.

As we have now received confirmation of our worst fears, that Ashley Barnes will spend a majority of next season injured due to damaged knee ligaments. A true blow to the Clarets, meaning they must be buyers over the summer in the striker department. Aye aye Ashley, here’s to a swift recovery.

ST – Danny Ings (B+)

Most talented player in the squad. Despite much criticism and controversy this season, he still scored 11 goals and had a hand (scored or assisted) in over half of Burnley’s league goals this season. Could have been far more clinical in his finishing, but has given his all to the cause this season. Out of contract this summer and likely ready for a move to a different Premier League club.

SUB – Dean Marney (B+)

Unfortunate to suffer a season-ending injury just after the January transfer window closed. Vital for Burnley’s creativity driving forward from midfield. The club had great difficulty capturing much-needed points after his season ended early in February. Has signed a new contract through next season and will be an important factor upon his return as the Clarets seek promotion (albeit after his rehabilitation).

SUB – Michael Kightly (B-)

Has been ousted from the side by the likes of George Boyd, Scott Arfield, and Matt Taylor and has appeared infrequently this season. When on the park, he has played well and delivered creativity and a spark going forward.

SUB – Lukas Jutkiewicz (D)

Began the season as the second-choice striker and has failed to impress. Held the ball up well at times for his strike partner, but is prone to giving away the ball as well.  Failed to score a single goal this season after his £1.5m move this summer and lost his starting role as well as his confidence as the season progressed. Lacks composure and quality in his finishing. Would do well to return to the Championship to find a bit of form, as he has not been up to Premier League standard by any definition.

Note: Ryan has picked out a first XI and three subs – bit-part players have not been graded deliberately.

Do you agree with these grades or should they be higher or lower? Comment below.

5 things Burnley should do to avoid relegation

With just ten matches remaining in the league season and only three points needed to be safe (for now), here are my keys to Burnley Football Club retaining their status in the Barclay’s Premier League for a second consecutive season:

Keep calm and #VINGS

During the nine-month absence of Sam Vokes, Ashley Barnes proved to be a capable replacement. Barnes scored vital goals to help seal promotion last spring and has contributed a further five strikes this season, two of which proved to be match-winners; but he has hit only one goal this calendar year.

As Vokes approaches full match fitness it is time to restore the Vokes and Danny Ings partnership to the Clarets’ starting XI. Vokes delivered a spark against Swansea last weekend. He was a threat both on the ground and in the air and nearly bagged his first Premier League goal. Restoring last season’s famous 47-goal partnership into the starting lineup would be a most welcome sight.

Barnes would then be available as the first choice off the bench to replace Vokes, or to be added as a third attacking option.

Mix up the starting eleven

Sean Dyche has named an unchanged side for four league matches in a row since the unfortunate (and far too untimely) injury of Dean Marney.

Before that, however, Burnley were unchanged for a full ten consecutive matches in the Premier League. This philosophy of continuity worked remarkably well for Burnley last season in the Championship, but without a win for over two months, it may be time for Dyche to mix up the starting eleven.

Inserting a fit-again Stephen Ward at left-back to partner with Michael Kightly would be a sensible option. This would allow the attacking-minded Kightly license to push forward with a more solid defender in Ward behind him in support.

Use the full allotment of substitutions

This Premier League season, Sean Dyche has used the fewest number of substitutes when compared with other managers.

With just 70% of possible substitutions made, Dyche limits the Clarets’ ability to make late-game adjustments. Additionally, nearly all of these substitutions are like-for-like changes and are made too late in the match to impact the result.

Perhaps one of Dyche’s biggest strengths is also his biggest weakness: the faith he has in the players he picks for his starting XI. With a lean squad size and some long term injuries, the options at Dyche’s disposal are limited, but they are there nonetheless.

Flair and an ability to torment defenders should always leave Ross Wallace as a certainty to come on and make an impact, especially for set pieces in the latter stages of a match. After the restoration of the Vings partnership, Barnes should always be considered as a third attacking option to come on for Scott Arfield, who shows fatigue on occasion, or as a fresh legs replacement for Vokes.

Additionally, the return to fitness of Matt Taylor would provide some creativity and vital experience to the Clarets lineup, even if only for the last 30 minutes of a match.

Michael Duff

I was one of the voices calling for Michael Duff to be replaced in the starting lineup for the younger legs of then-loanee Michael Keane. The Manchester United youth product and England U-21 defender has since been signed by the club on a permanent basis and is now a mainstay in the starting XI.

With that change in the back line, Burnley’s woes in the air have worsened. The Clarets have conceded 17 (SEVENTEEN) headed goals this season, and returning Duff, a headed ball specialist, into the lineup would be an option to help the Clarets in the air at both ends of the pitch.

Improve on corner kicks

Burnley have scored just three goals from corner kicks this season. Alternatively, they have conceded 12 (TWELVE), far more than any other club in the division.

The additions of Vokes and Duff into the team would give the Clarets more aerial prowess on both attacking and defensive corners. Personnel changes aside, this is a concern that has plagued the Clarets all season and will go a long way to determining where Burnley will be playing their football next season.

This is ultimately a facet of Burnley’s game that needs to be improved at the training ground by Dyche, himself an uncompromising defender in his playing days.

*Stats courtesy of Squawka

Do you agree with Ryan’s points? Comment below.

Lock up Deano

As we once again prepare for the arrival of Premier League football in August, a noticeable facelift is taking place around Turf Moor. Over 100 simultaneous projects are underway to prepare the ground for the eyes of the world. A new players’ tunnel is being constructed, LED advertising boards around the pitch are being installed, and fresh faces are arriving for the start of pre-season training as well.

A handful of players amongst the fringe of the squad have seen their terms expire and have sought contracts elsewhere. New permanent signings, a harmonious balance of both youth and experience have arrived as well to help strengthen the squad for our new challenges that lie ahead.

Only a fool would suggest that Burnley would be capable of staying up with the same squad from 2013-14; yet that same nucleus that guided the Clarets to a dominant 93-point season will be crucial to guaranteeing Premier League survival next April and May. Kieran Trippier and Michael Duff have both extended their Turf Moor careers. Additionally, just this week, Scott Arfield has signed a new contract that will keep him at Burnley until 2017, news that was met with delight from Clarets fans. A new deal is on the table, merely waiting for the stroke of Danny Ings’ pen, and both Ashley Barnes and Sam Vokes accepted extended contracts this past winter. Clearly the board share my sentiments, as they have made locking up the core of our squad a top priority.

Regarded by many as Burnley’s player of the season last term, certainly no one is more deserving of an improved contract as Dean Marney.

With midfield partner David Jones, Deano acted as the Clarets’ fulcrum at the centre of the park. His three goals scored from midfield last season cannot truly justify the impact that he has on the squad. In the nine league matches without Marney last season due to injury and suspension, Burnley seemed rudderless and severely lacked impetus going forward. The stretch of time during his injury last November led to (not coincidentally) a bit of a hairy patch in Burnley’s campaign. No doubt, Matthew “run for days” Taylor was brought in as potential cover for Marney in the upcoming season, yet another astute signing by Sean Dyche and his staff.

At the top of Burnley’s midfield diamond, Deano brings attributes that cannot be truly quantified by merely measuring goals and assists. As a box-to-box runner and selfless teammate, he encapsulates Dyche’s relentless mantra and attitude. Deano will not be regarded as one of the “nice guys” of the league this season.

Marney’s passionate and charismatic personality will not allow him to shy away from a challenge at the highest level of them all. At 30 years of age, Deano still has some years left on his legs, and he should be given every opportunity to see them out with the Clarets in the Premier League.

We are a Premier League club because of players like Dean Marney.

The board should make every effort to offer Dean Marney a new and extended contract, both because he has earned it and with past Premier League experience to offer, he is a crucial part of the Clarets guaranteeing top-flight survival.

Has Deaniesta earned a new deal? Comment below.