Last chance saloon for Norwich City against confident Clarets with safety in their sights


Everton’s midweek trip to Burnley was one of the biggest games of the Premier League season.

While the Toffees knew that they would finish the night above the Clarets regardless of the result, a home win would take Sean Dyche’s side to within one point of safety. Frank Lampard’s worst nightmare soon became a reality, as Nathan Collins popped up unmarked from a corner to flick the ball into the net after just 12 minutes.

Two first-half penalties from Richarlison saw the visitors take the lead into the break, but Jay Rodriguez’s close-range finish levelled the scores again shortly after the restart. Some calamitous defending allowed Burnley to find a late winner from a throw-in routine, as Ben Godfrey’s poor clearance landed directly at the feet of Matěj Vydra, who set up Maxwell Cornet to slam the ball past Jordan Pickford to seal the points.

As Everton have not been relegated since 1951, only Arsenal have a longer unbroken period in the top flight of English football. A bottom-three finish is now a very real prospect for the Toffees, and Burnley may be able to reap the rewards as a result.

The Clarets have regularly flirted with the relegation places since their second promotion to the Premier League in 2016, but it felt like this season would be a bridge too far for Dyche’s men. While they’ve boasted two top-half finishes in recent campaigns, the first of which saw them qualify for the Europa League, Burnley have always been a small fish in a big pond. The loss of Chris Wood to relegation rivals Newcastle United looked to be the turning point.

But the Lancashire side have profited from a number of clubs having abysmal seasons, allowing them to maintain their proximity to the teams above them despite registering just three wins all season before beating Everton on Tuesday night – the fewest of any side in the entire division.

With Brentford, Leeds United and Newcastle showing marked improvements in recent months, Burnley are now hunting down Everton. The Toffees have an incredibly difficult run-in, facing the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal in the final weeks of the season. Regardless of how the Toffees approach their nightmare run-in, the Clarets need to make sure that they build on their midweek victory.

That starts with a trip to struggling Norwich City on Sunday afternoon, which many Burnley fans see as the perfect match to overtake Everton.

While another immediate return to the Championship is not yet certain for the Canaries, their chances of survival are slim to none. Dean Smith’s side sit bottom of the Premier League table, having failed to register a win in the competition in their last seven matches.

A 3-1 home defeat against Brentford was seen as the hammer blow to their aspirations of escaping the bottom three, but the reality is that Norwich are still only seven points off Everton with eight games to play. If they don’t beat Burnley on Sunday, however, the Canaries can all but rule out another season in the top flight.

Smith still doesn’t seem to be certain on what his best team actually is. Norwich’s last three games has seen them play in three different formations: a 5-3-2 against Chelsea, a 4-3-3 against Leeds and a 4-4-2 diamond against Brighton. The Canaries failed to win a single one of those matches, scoring just twice in the process.

Perhaps this is his way of planning for next season, as Norwich will hope to keep the core of their current squad together, given their previous success in the Championship. They aren’t able to convert their performances in the second tier into Premier League sustainability, however, which has seen them yo-yo between the two divisions on an alarmingly regular basis.

In that sense, they can learn a lot from Burnley, who have consistently survived in the Premier League despite operating on a tiny budget. The main difference is that Norwich, especially under former boss Daniel Farke, prioritise playing attractive football over achieving positive results. Their league position has been sacrificed as a result, having spent a matter of days outside the bottom three in their last two Premier League campaigns.

Conversely, Burnley do not play overly attractive football. Dyche has often been criticised for his incredibly direct style of football, but ultimately it has allowed them to become a sustainable top-flight club. Impressively, Burnley have spent just £41 million on transfers this season, with the bulk of those incomings financed by the sale of Wood to Newcastle. On the other hand, Norwich spent just under £60 million in last summer’s transfer window alone.

It leaves major question marks regarding the Canaries’ club structure and recruitment. Fans have been left feeling furious that their side has spent such a large amount of money on players who have proved ineffective in the Premier League. Teams like Burnley set the benchmark for low-budget success, and it’s a path that Norwich have failed to follow.

It means that Norwich have little to play for with more than a month left until the end of the season. A defeat on Sunday would certainly spell the end of their survival hopes, but Burnley know that three points could extend their Premier League sustainability for yet another campaign.

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East Anglian football editor for Prost International.

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