The ending may not have felt good. The Lyle Foster red card, the Sander Berge handball and the fact VAR is back in Burnley supporters’ lives.
But, if you step back and take a breath, the 1-1 draw with Nottingham Forest was the night Vincent Kompany’s team looked like a Premier League outfit.
Against Manchester City, Aston Villa and Tottenham, barring a handful of 10-15 minute spells. They had shown naivety and been second best in too many phases. Making the jump from the Championship and Premier League felt as tough as it has ever been.
Monday night was different. This was a game they could have won – and maybe should have before VAR intervened and ruled out Foster’s goal on 75 minutes for the ball brushing Berge’s arm.
It helped provide answers to the question that had begun to loom large over the international break, namely can Burnley compete at this level?
Based on this evidence the answer is yes, or it certainly was for Kompany, who suggested it showed his team are on the same level as “a range of teams”.
The detailed meetings and relentless work on the training ground appears to be paying off. Burnley were one unit, a cohesive team carrying out a gameplan and not fading.
The biggest improvement was defensively. From front to back, Burnley looked tough to break down. and didn’t leave any unit exposed. It took a sublime goal from Callum Hudson-Odoi to break through, but James Trafford had little else of difficulty to deal with.
They were disciplined, alert and defended the box well. They withstood waves of pressure and didn’t leave themselves exposed or allow opponents too much space in and around the box. They pressed from the front together and when they lost possession, their transition – while not perfect – was improved from the first four matches.
Despite missing the first three Premier League matchday squads, Kompany recalled Charlie Taylor and he was one of Burnley’s standout players. The defender with the most top flight experience at the club was an assured, tough-tackling presence in a back four which – despite having only played together once in the Championship (against Reading in a 0-0 draw in April) – clearly looked to have benefited from spending time together on the training pitch.
Burnley spent all summer searching for a new left-back, but Taylor remained despite interest from elsewhere. Kompany hinted that search will resume in January, but the 30-year-old, who is in the final year of his contract, may have started a rethink.
The only senior left-back at the club was part of why Burnley looked more balanced. So, too, was Josh Brownhill being reunited with Josh Cullen in central midfield and Johann Berg Gudmundsson offering support.
The Belgian has been happy with his team’s creativity so far, but this was at a more sustained level. Luca Koleosho continues to be fearless. Foster’s hold-up play was sublime.
Zeki Amdouni netted his first league goal. The Swiss youth international has had moments in games but this was more sustained. He’s being encouraged to be clever with his positioning and he worked out on the pitch how to become more involved. He began to dictate the attack, picking up pockets of space on the right and progressing the ball swiftly and decisively.
This was not just about moments and individualism. There were connections and movement. The building of play from Jordan Beyer and Ameen Al-Dakhil to manipulate the opposition by drawing Nottingham Forest out and exploiting the space that opened up was more consistent.
It was typified by the goal which came at the end of their best period. With the ball at the back they remained calm despite Forest’s pressing and progressed the ball up the pitch first through Taylor and then Brownhill. Koleosho’s cut-back flicked off Foster and Amdouni did the rest. A team goal, much like their one against Tottenham.
Burnley take the lead at The City Ground! pic.twitter.com/WkVMjojm0m
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) September 18, 2023
It felt like the Burnley we’ve come to know since Kompany’s arrival, had appeared.
The depth of the attacking talent offers further encouragement. Kompany was able to make changes that did not weaken but rather strengthened his side. Summer signings Mike Tresor and Berge made positive impacts. We did not even see Aaron Ramsey or Manuel Benson or Wilson Odobert, who did not make the squad.
It was not flawless. There were concessions of possession in poor areas and moments where Burnley were nearly opened up. Naivety was still on show, epitomised by Foster’s sending off. His off-the-ball elbow on Ryan Yates means the South African will miss the next three matches. Anass Zaroury’s late red card against Manchester City was similar – a needless incident that must be learnt from.
Burnley made 15 signings at a cost of over £90m – but did Kompany get what he needed?
There are similarities to the Forest side that came up last season, a team that lost a number of loan players and signed plenty. They won only one of their first 11 games but Steve Cooper worked out a system and his players gelled. It’s not an exact blueprint but shows it can be done.
The individual and collective development has been the key focus all summer and Kompany remains adamant his team has plenty of room to grow.
A point here does not solve all of Burnley’s problems. It may only put them on the same level as “six or seven clubs” as Kompany suggested post-match, but it is a good place to start building.
(Top photo: Marc Atkins/Getty Images)