The Championship got up and running on Friday night with the Vincent Kompany era at Burnley starting with a 1-0 win at Huddersfield Town, who reached the play-off final last season.
Kompany has the tough task of succeeding Sean Dyche at Turf Moor, but the former Manchester City captain is under no illusions about the scale of the job facing him.
Dyche had been in charge of the Clarets for almost a full decade, remodelling the club in his own gruff image. Dyche twice led the team to promotion from the Championship, then eventually established Burnley in the top-flight with a brace of top-10 finishes and also delivered the club’s European qualification for the first time in 50 years. He is rightly regarded as a Burnley legend.
A huge squad rebuild was always likely for Kompany, whose arrival was delayed until mid-June. James Tarkowski and Ben Mee left on free transfers, the defensive duo Burnley have built their success on, then the England goalkeeper Nick Pope followed the pair out of the door. Nathan Collins and Dwight McNeil have also gone, but Kompany has been busy signing up new recruits by landing nine fresh faces including Josh Cullen, the beating heart of his team at Anderlecht.
There were six debutants in the Burnley team at Huddersfield, including academy prospect Dara Costelloe, and inevitably one of them scored the winner. Ian Maatsen, a rampaging left-back on loan from Chelsea, thrived in the Championship at Coventry City last season and looks set to be an asset for Kompany in the second tier. But it was Cullen who represented the transformation.
No more Dyche-ball
According to Opta data, Burnley completed more than 500 passes against the Terriers, the most the team has ever managed since records began being collected. Under Dyche, the Clarets were widely regarded as being a long ball team. That will no longer be the case under Kompany.
Cullen, who came through the West Ham youth system and is firmly established in the Republic of Ireland midfield, had 95 touches of the ball and played 81 passes, completing 96.3 per cent of them. The 26-year-old dominated the game at the John Smith’s Stadium and he will be the key man as Kompany tries to take Burnley back to the promised land of the Premier League. There will be plenty of Premier League managers who tuned into the game wondering why Cullen was not on the radar of their scouting team as he already looks to be ready to play at a higher level.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Kompany’s immediate transformation of Burnley’s style was the way the remaining experienced players bought into his plan. Charlie Taylor, a rampaging left-back under Dyche, was asked to partner Taylor Harwood-Bellis in the middle of defence instead, with neither player putting a foot wrong. Huddersfield mustered two shots in the entire game, neither of which were on target, and were booed off by home fans at the break.
While Burnley fans were split on Dyche’s departure, Kompany already has them feeling giddy.
Still work to do
The 1-0 scoreline did not reflect Burnley’s dominance, with their 16 attempts failing to produce a more comfortable opening day victory. Costelloe missed two good chances and Burnley at times appeared to lack a cutting edge in attack as their most expensive signing, Scott Twine from MK Dons at £5 million was only fit for the bench, with Ashley Barnes an uncomfortable fit up front.
Kompany has spoken about targeting Coventry playmaker Callum O’Hare but the Sky Blues are said to value the jewel in their crown at £10 million. O’Hare, who missed Coventry’s draw at Sunderland with a hamstring injury, would represent a significant outlay for a relegated club, regardless of the sizable fees that were brought in by the sales of Pope, Collins and McNeil.
Burnley’s budget has been affected by the club’s controversial takeover at the end of 2020, which saw ALK Capital use a leveraged buyout – similar to how the Glazer family took over at Old Trafford – to replace a group of local businessmen in the boardroom. Kompany understands Burnley had to reduce the club’s wage bill and sell their stars to pay off ALK debts, though some investment will still be needed to provide the missing pieces of the puzzle in the Clarets squad.
But the ex-Belgium defender could hardly have made a more positive first impression as Kompany takes his first steps as a young manager in the English game.