Ashley Barnes finished last season having scored three goals in his final six league appearances, so to say he’s begun this season like a house on fire is an understatement.
The 29-year-old marksman has positioned himself as an outsider for this year’s Golden Boot alongside Norwich City centre-forward Teemu Pukki, and was nearly the match-winner as Burnley were held to a 1-1 draw at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Heading into this afternoon’s daunting trip, hosts Wolves left Italy with a 3-2 victory over Torino in the Europa League a few days prior, so Sean Dyche knew the West Midlands club were there for the taking – and so did Barnes.
The former Austria under-20 international bagged three goals across Burnley’s opening two league outings. Make that now four in three.
However, in both games Dyche utilised his in-form centre-forward differently: at home to leaky Southampton he formed a two-man strike partnership with Chris Wood, whilst against Arsenal he floated behind the Kiwi.
12' GOALLLLL!!!!!! 0-1 pic.twitter.com/AQXGyG9M7Y
— Burnley FC (@BurnleyOfficial) August 25, 2019
Here at Molineux it was back to that orthodox 4-4-2 which somewhat proved effective against Wolves’ now familiar 3-5-2 shape, when it should really have given them a numerical disadvantage in the middle of the pitch.
But the difference was made up by their work ethic. Barnes predominantly operated in the space just outside the penalty area, where his 13th minute strike came from, seldom dropping into the 18-yard box.
Effectiveness was the name of his game: Barnes touched the ball the second-fewest number of times of any Burnley player that started, 25 times across 78 minutes, though he did produce the most shots on goal (four).
Such maximisation no doubt would have made Dyche proud as on the touchline as the man once affectionately named “ginger Mourinho”, as he is a coach who professes industry before aesthetics. Burnley ceded possession to Nuno Espirito Santo’s men, having kept 35% of the ball, that being said they had more attempts on target (four to two).
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“There’s more than one way of playing,” as Diego Simeone once mused. In the case of Barnes, he’s a refreshing throwback. Although the Premier League season is still in its infancy, he’s put everyone – including every defender – on notice. His gradual evolution: unerring in front of goal, determined to become renowned for scoring in the unlikeliest of situations, could see him attain the title as being one of the league’s most lethal No 9s.
Every game Barnes cuts a impassive figure; focused, void of distraction and with every fibre geared for a single purpose. Once that mission is done the child in him escapes but just as quickly his mask goes back up and the cycle starts again. Goalscoring for him is no longer an obsession, it’s compulsive. Next up, the small matter of welcoming European champions Liverpool and the world’s finest centre-back in Virgil van Dijk – talk about the ultimate test.