It wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last, but Burnley learned another very important lesson against West Brom.
Friday’s encounter was the last game in a schedule that has seen Vincent Kompany’s side play nine times in 33 days in all competitions. It was the last of a tough three-game week. Three matches in six days.
The Championship is hard work, which Burnley embrace, but their 1-1 draw with West Brom was the first time the schedule has caught up with them.
With a few days off scheduled before a week to be spent on the training ground, Kompany made just one change to the line-up which started with their midweek victory over Millwall, which in turn was unchanged by compared to the previous win over Wigan. Consequently, 10 of Burnley’s starting 11 have started all three games.
It was a risk that nearly paid off, but for a 98th-minute equalizer from West Brom’s Brandon Thomas-Asante. A Burnley win, however, would not have told the true story of the game. Kompany’s team was second from start to finish.
Burnley were unable to match the intensity with which Steve Bruce’s side started the game, pressing loud and clear. Burnley were the second to lose balls, but they also set the tone for their own downfall with the negligence they were in possession of.
Their number of passes attempted (424), passing accuracy (75.47%) and possession (47.08%) all ranked bottom in their respective categories this season, highlighting the lack of control they had in the game.
Previously, the hope was that the Burnley players could squeeze one more performance out of the bag.
“We’re still at the start of the season, so I think everyone can absorb the load better,” Kompany said when asked about minutes management in his pre-match press conference. “But as the season progresses, there is no doubt that we will not be able to have a period like with a single group of players. It’s impossible.”
Friday’s trip to the Hawthorns proved to be one game too far, but it would be hard to be too critical of a side who, despite being far from their best, came close to securing a 1- 0 on the road. There is a reason, despite the way of equalizing, that Kompany described it as a good point.
There was no lack of desire or effort but fatigue brings lack of concentration. On another day West Brom could and should have scored more than them.
Games like this will provide lessons to be learned. Not just for the Burnley players, but also for Kompany and their coaching staff. They are still learning about the league and management is also learning more about their players, including what workloads each can handle and how to handle them during these intense times.
After the victory over Millwall on August 30, Wednesday was a day of recovery before the first assessments were made on players’ fitness and fatigue as preparations intensified for West Brom. Selection decisions were finalized Friday morning after further discussions with the medical and sports science departments.
The problem is that Kompany is at a crossroads with its team selection as it attempts to integrate new players into its system. In a free week, those issues will have eased, but for now that means pushing those who are currently in the first team.
Nathan Tella was a perfect example. He started to show signs of fatigue against Millwall but remained in the squad on Friday. It turned out to be a good move as he was Burnley’s biggest threat in the first half, but was substituted in the 64th minute with his energy levels dropping rapidly.
Many others also looked tired and their performances matched that. It was a collective rather than one or two individuals.
Kompany admitted in hindsight that he probably could have made more changes to his starting XI, believing it would have made a positive difference. It is not a guarantee. He could have thrown away players and things got worse.
The Belgian has been in a match-by-match, what-is-the-best-team-I-can-pick-to-win mode, preferring to take a longer-term approach, biding his time by bringing in new players in slowly and don’t throw them into the deep end too soon.
Planning for these scenarios is why Burnley were so active in the transfer market. They wanted to build a bigger, more competitive team, so that when the inevitable rotation happens, there’s no drop in level. This is where Kompany wants to be in the coming months.
Burnley have tried to manage workloads during games, using the five-substitution rule to remove players to protect them. This, in part, allowed new recruits to get minutes under their belts.
Encouragingly, these players are starting to show signs of what they will be able to deliver. It was Manuel Benson’s cameo against Millwall in midweek that changed the game. Against West Brom, it was Darko Churlinov’s turn.
He produced a lively display and was an outlet for the counterattack. Only its final touch was missing. He should have put the ball past an unmarked Johann Berg Gudmundsson in a two-on-one break and he hit the post after taking advantage of a bad backpass. That would have doubled Burnley’s advantage after Jay Rodriguez’s penalty gave them the lead.
During the pre-match warm-up, new signings Anass Zaroury and Halil Dervisoglu took part in drills alongside the matchday substitutes. Centre-back Jordan Beyer was also at The Hawthorns but was not checked in on time. All three will also need time to acclimatize.
The wait also continues for the return of attacking midfielder Scott Twine, although it looks like progress is being made, with Kompany suggesting a return is near.
The championship is a relentless division. A large team is usually required if you want to be successful.
Burnley have built on that and in the coming months that depth and rotation must be used to avoid stumbles like Friday’s draw with West Brom repeating itself.
(Top photo: Dave Howarth – CameraSport via Getty Images)