By 90Min
January 14, 2018

Burnley have been one of the larger surprises in the Premier League this season, sitting seventh in the table through Matchweek 23. They finished last season in 16th, just six points above the relegation zone in their first year back in the top flight after winning the Championship the year before. 

Most expected the Clarets to finish somewhere similar to last season, especially after starting keeper Tom Heaton suffered an injury early in the year against Crystal Palace. The young English keeper Nick Pope has filled in between the sticks and has done extremely well, keeping a clean sheet in nine of his Premier League starts. 

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Pope should give plenty of thanks to his two centre-halves, Ben Mee and James Tarkowski, who have been in fantastic form this season. Burnley have surrendered just 20 goals, the fourth-best in the Premier League. This defensive trio has been largely responsible for their club's success, and the numbers behind their play prove it.  

Mee and Tarkowski both rank highly for several defensive categories, improving their play with balls in the air. They rank second and joint-third in the Premier League for headed clearances and also sit in the top-four for aerial battles won by defenders. Out of all defenders who've won at least 80 battles, Tarkowski has the highest percentage, one of only two players to win over 70% of their total aerial clashes. 

Defender Battles Won Battles Attempted Percentage Won
Shane Duffy 111 174 64%
James Tarkowski 105 148 71%
Christopher Schindler 94 143 66%
Ben Mee 86 137 63%
Christian Kabasele 86 122 70%

Pope has also been solid in the air this year, his 36 high claims leading the Premier League by a large margin. He's saved 80% of the total shots he's faced this season as well, allowing just 16 goals while on the pitch, and has been on his toes in the back, his 16 sweeper clearances a top-six figure, with fewer appearances than the keepers ranked above him.  

Manchester United v Burnley - Premier League

The stats indicate that Burnley's defensive improvement is the biggest reason for their newfound success this year, shoring up the goals that dragged them down last season. They've found the back of the net less often than last year, but have been able to salvage points by conceding far fewer goals. 

Category 2016/17 2017/18 *
Goals Allowed Per Match 1.45 .87
Headed Goals Allowed 10 3
Goals Allowed from Set Pieces 12 4
Clean Sheets 10 10
Own Goals 2 0

*Through Matchweek 23

Pope is a clear difference between the two seasons, having made his Premier League debut when Heaton was forced off due to injury early in the year. Pope's presence coupled with the improved play of Mee and Tarkowski have the Clarets on track for their highest-ever Premier League finish, with potential for Europa League play if they can continue their good form as the year goes on. 

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