Vincent Kompany made the perfect start to life as Burnley manager on Friday with a 1-0 win over Huddersfield Town to open the EFL Championship season.
However, it wasn’t the result that was most eye-catching about the evening, but rather the manner of the Clarets’ performance.
Burnley took a well-deserved lead in the 18th minute away from home through Dutch full-back Ian Maatsen — on loan from Chelsea — curling into the far corner as the ball fell to him inside the box. The visitors kept things locked up after that and frustrated Huddersfield to just two shots and 0.08 Expected Goals across the entire match.
This all sounds like vintage Burnley, right? Not quite.
The main reason for Huddersfield’s total lack of attacking presence on Friday night wasn’t necessarily through a defensively resolute performance from Burnley, but rather their complete dominance of the ball.
Burnley controlled a massive 70% of possession at John Smith’s Stadium, completing a whopping 506 passes — including 265 in the opposition half.
For context, the Lancashire side averaged just 39.7% possession throughout the 2021/22 Premier League campaign, while from 2013/14 through 2021/22, they never exceeded 500 completed passes in a single game.
Burnley completed 507 passes in their first league game under Vincent Kompany, equivalent to 5.9% of their 2021/22 Premier League season total. 🍷 pic.twitter.com/1Oq0v5bpAe
— Squawka (@Squawka) July 29, 2022
“I thought Burnley really dominated the middle of the pitch by putting lots of players from wide areas into the middle,” Huddersfield boss Danny Schofield noted. “We didn’t quite deal with that, they were breaking lots of lines and progressing up the pitch.”
Is this the new ‘Burnley-ball’, moulded in the image of one of Pep Guardiola’s disciples? Perhaps not quite.
Indeed, Burnley still made 23 tackles on Friday night, which exceeds their 15.5 per match average from last season, while they also made 19 clearances and five interceptions — compared to 21.89 and 10.82 per match last season. They still get through a lot of defensive work, and Kompany was keen to stress after the match the importance of ‘work’ to Burnley’s identity.
“A lot is being made of the style we will be playing this season but we are still Burnley and Burnley will always be about hard work and I saw that in this game. We need that, then the rest of it can be enjoyed,” said the Belgian.
“We never got any momentum against us. There were not many shots against us and we did well to get out and block their crosses because that’s where it all starts. That will be crucial in the Championship, because it’s not enough to do what we did in the first half – it will be about what we did in the second half as well.”
Even so, a lack of expansive play and risk-taking was one of the criticisms often levelled at Sean Dyche during his reign at Turf Moor. If Kompany can maintain the resilience Dyche drilled into this Burnley team and couple it with the level of dominance and purpose in possession seen on Friday, it may result in a very swift return to the top-flight.