Two relegation-threatened sides collide at Turf Moor this weekend, with Burnley and Sunderland both in need of all three points (3pm Saturday).
Sean Dyche’s Burnley were victorious in the traditional Boxing Day round of fixtures, defeating Middlesbrough by a goal to nil in front of their own supporters to move up to 14th place in the standings. Burnley once again demonstrated a clinical edge in front of goal by scoring one of the few chances they created, while the Clarets also succeeded in keeping things tight at the back and denying Middlesbrough space in advanced areas of the pitch.
Dyche’s (pictured) game plan may be a relatively straightforward one, but results so far this season suggest it is working. Six points is the gap now separating Burnley from the bottom three. The final relegation spot is currently occupied by Sunderland, so a victory on Saturday could see the margin extended to nine points. Dyche and his players are probably more confident than ever before that they can stay in the Premier League for a second consecutive campaign. It is a view that this preview shares.
Sunderland’s Boxing Day was altogether more miserable as Manchester United ran out 3-1 winners in the clubs’ meeting at Old Trafford. David Moyes’ men are now two points adrift of safety at the wrong end of the table. While that sort of deficit is easily surmountable, it is imperative the Black Cats do not suffer their 13th defeat of the season on New Year’s Eve.
There have been a few signs of life on show in the northeast in recent weeks, with Sunderland managing four victories since the start of November, but Moyes’ side have also been comfortably beaten on a few occasions in that time, including a dire 3-0 loss to fellow strugglers Swansea City.
With the title challengers Liverpool set to visit the Stadium of Light for the Wearsiders’ first game of 2017 on Monday, this fixture against Burnley is an excellent opportunity for Sunderland to hoist themselves out of the drop zone.
Burnley have only one injury worry in the form of Dean Marney, who could miss out with a knock. Dyche, who has never been the biggest rotator as a manager, will probably stick as close as possible to the starting XI he selected against Middlesbrough, although Sam Vokes will be hoping to replace Ashley Barnes up top. Jeff Hendrick will be an important figure in the heart of the home side’s midfield, while central defenders Michael Keane and Ben Mee will be looking to play a key part in what they hope will be Burnley’s fifth clean sheet of the campaign.
Sunderland’s injury list is much longer than their opponents’, with Jan Kirchhoff, Duncan Watmore, Lynden Gooch, Paddy McNair, Lee Cattermole and Jack Rodwell all definitely out and Steven Pienaar and Javier Manquillo slight doubts.
Fabio Borini, Jermain Defoe and Victor Anichebe will form a narrow front three at the top of the pitch, while Jason Denayer and Didier Ndong will be tasked with winning the midfield battle and servicing the visitors’ three forwards. Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford is having a fine season and will probably be busy again here.
Saturday’s match at Turf Moor is the type that could define these two teams’ seasons, with Burnley likely to be the happier when the full-time whistle is blown just before five o’clock. The Clarets have won four of their last five matches at home and this preview reckons that they should be too strong for Sunderland in Lancashire. Hendrick – a box-to-box midfielder who is constantly making lung-busting runs to get into the penalty area – can hit the back of the net anytime.