Burnley was expected to be part of the relegation bout, but as the Premier League season nears its halfway point, it finds itself in the hunt for what would be an improbable Champions League place.
Burnley. Fourth Place. December 12.
Yes, you read that right. Sean Dyche's Burnley overcame a tough battle against Stoke City Tuesday to jump, provisionally, up to fourth in the table. After Wednesday's results, Burnley sits in sixth, tied on points with Tottenham and Liverpool and a point clear of Arsenal. The club that has yo-yo'd between England's top two divisions over the past five years seems to have finally cemented its place in the top flight, and a great deal of praise should be heaped on its manager, Dyche.
During their time in the Championship (2013/14 and 15/16), the Clarets were expected to struggle, with a number of betting companies suggesting that they wouldn't stand a chance of promotion, instead settling for a mid-table finish.
However, with first- and second-place finishes, this was only the start of Dyche proving doubters wrong. Dyche himself doesn't have many critics, but the squad he has built, on paper, doesn't look strong enough to compete in the Premier League.
This is where the 43-year-old works his magic. Last year, the Clarets struggled but just about managed to survive, hitting that crucial 40-point mark to stay clear of relegation. This season, after just 17 games, they are only nine points off their total from the last campaign, showing the progress Dyche has made.
He appears to have shored things up at the back, as his side have only lost four times thus far and aren't showing any signs of making any defensive slips. Its 12 goals conceded is second only to Manchesters City and United (11) as the stingiest unit in the league.
But having already been relegated from the top flight and finishing 16th last year, there could have been a reasonable case for Dyche's sacking over the summer. In today's game, managers have been let go for much, much less (insert image of a distressed Frank De Boer here), so relegation and a survival battle could cause any chairman to switch things up. But Dyche is loved at Burnley, and the faith it has repaid in him is currently working.
The Englishman was heavily linked with a move to Everton in the summer, with many bookmakers favoring him over a number of high-profile candidates. The interest was evident, and with the position Burnley was in, you couldn't really blame Dyche if he had chosen to move on to a bigger club.
He would've left the Clarets in a great position and opened the door for a new challenge, but the love he is shown by the club even when times are tough was enough to keep him on board.
The Clarets face a tough month ahead, with both Manchester United and Spurs to play in a three-day period. But with the position they're in, Dyche will fancy his side's chances to continue its progression in what is looking like being one of the best seasons in club history.