AITOR KARANKA feels every Championship club can learn something from the strength of the team spirit that has carried Burnley to the verge of the Premier League.
The Clarets entertain Middlesbrough at Turf Moor this afternoon knowing they will be guaranteed promotion if they win and Derby County fail to beat Huddersfield.
At the start of the season, very few neutrals were backing Burnley to make the top-flight given the Lancashire club’s limited wage bill and lack of supposed star names.
However, Sean Dyche has successfully assembled a squad that is greater than the sum of its parts, and cultivated a sense of togetherness that has contributed to Burnley losing just four of their 41 Championship matches.
“I said when we played against Burnley on Boxing Day that I thought they were the best team in the league,” said Karanka. “Leicester or other teams might have better players – and by that I don’t mean that Burnley do not have good players – but Burnley is the best team as a team.
“I think every team in the league can learn something from them. They are a very good group. The coach has brought a group of players together and turned them into a very strong team.”
Having been appointed to replace Eddie Howe in October 2012, Dyche has cultivated a reputation as one of the most highly-rated managers in the Football League.
His first managerial post at Watford might not have gone as planned, but Karanka claims his opposite number’s work on the training ground is immediately apparent as soon as his Burnley players begin to play.
“As a coach, one of the most pleasurable things is when you can see the coaching work you have put in out on the pitch,” he said. “Burnley are the best example in the league of that. When you watch Burnley play, you can see what the coach has been doing in training.”
The Clarets have been especially effective in attack, with Danny Ings and Sam Vokes combining to score 40 league goals since the start of the season.
In contrast, Albert Adomah is the only Boro player to have reached double figures, and in a league as tight and competitive as the Championship, the presence of a reliable goalscorer can make a huge difference to a team’s final standing.
“An in-form striker can make a very big difference,” said Karanka. “In our position, if we had scored one goal against Leeds, Blackburn and Nottingham Forest – three games where we played well – we would have six more points.
“Those are the margins, and they can make a big difference to where a team finishes at the end of the season. When Burnley have chances to score, they have people like Ings, Vokes and (Ashley) Barnes to take them. That makes a huge difference.”