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Josh Cullen shows a different side of his game on outstanding Burnley debut

Updated 3 hours ago

AUDITORS OF THE FOOTBALL FAMILY podcast will hear the depths of co-presenter Shane Keegan’s ardor for Republic of Ireland midfielder Josh Cullen.

So it continued on last week’s show as we looked forward to the new season of English football. Shane had this to say about signing Cullen for Burnley.

“In possession, out of possession, he absolutely has to be the dominant midfielder in this division.”

So, are these the exaggerated claims of those who are totally biased?

Based on Cullen’s debut for Burnley in the 1-0 win over Huddersfield on Friday night… absolutely not. He was exceptional, winning the Man of the Match award and hogging most of the individual stats as well. Cullen made and completed more passes than anyone on the court, and his 93 touches were second in the field.

Burnley’s performance attracted wider attention. Vincent Kompany seems to have already assigned a Vieira-at-Palace style overhaul. Burnley have recorded over 70% possession (their highest since possession records began) and have attempted and completed more passes than in any game last season.

Cullen was at the center of it all, think of him as something of a midfield viceroy for Kompany.

The manager later admitted that one of the reasons he brought Cullen with him from Anderlecht was to help inculcate his ideas on the pitch, which is precisely what Cullen did against Huddersfield last Friday. .

Burnley’s system was best described as a 4-2-3-1, with Cullen chosen at the base of midfield alongside Jack Cork. He did all the neat and tidy work we saw him do so effectively for Ireland under Stephen Kenny, weaving through midfield, making passes and dictating the pace of play.

He also showcased the range of deep passing we saw with Ireland. Here is an example from the first semester. Cullen takes the ball from his goalkeeper and spots right-back Connor Roberts in space.

He completes the pass but moves instantly, striding forward to take a return pass from his right-back.

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Just as crucial as the race was the look before it. Cullen raised his head and looked around before taking Roberts’ pass and spotting a gap in the Huddersfield defence. He then played a terrific first pass across that gap to fire Ashley Barnes.

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Barnes didn’t take the opportunity, and it ended in a challenge in the penalty area that looked suspiciously like a penalty on replay.

What was also remarkable was an aspect of his game that we saw less of with Ireland: his ability to go forward. Cullen has played at the base of a midfield triangle in each of the past two games and played in a session two – usually alongside Jeff Hendrick – before that. While Hendrick had the license to go forward, Cullen was usually tasked with sitting deep.

Based on the evidence from Friday night, it might be worth releasing him a bit more often, where his penetrating passes created a slew of scoring chances.

Okay, no snickering from behind, but one of the best stats to measure said penetrating pass is titled ‘Deep Completions’, which is defined as a non-crossing made within 20 yards of the opponent’s goal. . (You won’t be surprised that the best teams are making the most of it: the five teams that made the most of it in Europe’s top five leagues last season were Bayern Munich, Man City, Liverpool, Real Madrid and PSG.)

Cullen made more of those Deep Completions than any other player in the Championship last weekend. They were usually the result of him pushing to the edge of the opponent’s penalty area. (Apologies from here for the lack of video clips, copyright infringement is zealously monitored.)

Here is an example from the first half.

Cullen pushes to the edge of the Huddersfield box and takes a pass from Roberts, who advances as soon as he plays the pass.

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Cullen then offers a magnificent first pass for the new Roberts…

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..which suits him perfectly, but Roberts’ first shot is blocked by the goalkeeper at close range.

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Let’s take one more from the second half. In another example from KompanyBall, Cullen is among the Burnley players pushing the opposing keeper.

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Barnes half-blocks the kick, and that’s good for Brownhill. Again, like Roberts in the first half, Brownhill decides to use Cullen inside him and continue his run into the penalty area.

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Huddersfield’s defensive line is all over the store and not pushing for offside, so Cullen has time to take a touch and then push the ball for Brownhill, who dismisses the chance with his own heavy touch.

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There’s a reason Cullen has bonded so well with the right side of Burnley’s attack. When Burnley attacked that flank it was his trigger to go forward and Jack Cork sat down. It was the opposite case when Burnley attacked down the left. The winning goal was scored by left-back Ian Maatsen, who stepped forward to start and eventually complete the move.

It’s worth watching Cullen’s small part in the movement. When Maatsen begins to advance, Cullen gives him the green light to advance accusing him of covering behind him.

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Cullen then had a decent view of a fine goal.

Burnley jealously guarded their pre-season friendlies and hit Huddersfield with an element of surprise on Friday night, but now the secret is out. Anyone hoping to stop Burnley will have to stop Josh Cullen.

Good weekend for…

Limerick teenager Dara Costelloe made his full debut for Burnley in that same game. He played on the right side in Burnley’s attack and crashed to the ground, in a very ‘Dirk Kuyt to Liverpool’ role. He missed two very good chances to score in the first half, but can be encouraged by simply getting those positions: only one player took more touches in the opposition box than Costelloe in the whole league on the day of the opening.

Bad weekend for…

Jason Knight is, curiously, still at Derby County, which started life in League One with a 1-0 win over Oxford. (Conor Hourihane scored the winner.) It might be unfair to say it was a bad weekend for Knight considering he played the whole game in a pretty rambunctious atmosphere, but he was picked at the back law, which is not ideal for its international prospects. . Especially since his rivals for a place in midfield all play above him in the league.

Irish Game of the Weekend

Granted, a lot of football fans are skeptical about praising players for “pre-assists”, i.e. the assist of the assist. But Jayson Molumby’s contribution to West Brom’s goal in the 1-1 draw with Middlesbrough showed the virtue of the metric.