Although there’s no reason to panic after the wholly expected pair of away defeats to Liverpool and Chelsea, there are lessons we can learn about the way we set the team up away from home.

In the two home matches so far, 4-5-1 has worked a treat. Chris McCann and Wade Elliott have both got forward enough to support the lone striker Martin Paterson, and Robbie Blake and Steven Fletcher have seen plenty of the ball on the flanks. Graham Alexander, in the holding role, has had relatively quiet afternoons, allowing him to collect the ball from the back four and distribute it freely.

But away from home, the gap between midfield and attack is vast. On the rare occasions we’ve had possession in the last two matches we’ve wasted it; partly due to poor passing, but more because we’ve had a lack of options. Elliott has rarely managed to find a Claret shirt, McCann has had no room to run with the ball, and Graham Alexander has found himself overrun with a lack of protection from the other midfielders. Blake and Fletcher have been pushed deep inside their own half, acting as secondary full-backs instead of as attacking threats.

We shouldn’t read too much in to the results – Chelsea and Liverpool will be two of the top three for certain come May – but we do need to amend our gameplan ever so slightly next time we play away from home.

It’s clear that the wide men aren’t getting involved enough up the pitch. And neither are they protecting the defenders behind them enough. Therefore, we require either a change of personnel to more mobile players such as Guerrero and Eagles, who will get up and down the flank better, or, if we are insisting on sticking to 4-5-1, play with the wingers pushed up, and with a striker that can win flick ons to them.

I’m a huge fan of Graham Alexander, but I can’t see how we can keep building a team around him against much superior opposition. For two of Liverpool’s goals he was tracking the runner, but was never going to have enough pace to get back and make a challenge. Reverting to 4-4-2 and dropping Alexander may leave the defence more exposed, but it would also give us much more support in attack when we do have the football.

There are also nagging concerns about Martin Paterson. He’s still goalless in seven appearances for club and country this season, and on Saturday missed another decent chance, although he worked Pepe Reina with two long-range efforts later in the game. Unfortunately the ball does not stick when it goes up to Pato. He’s not strong enough to hold off Premier League defenders or quick enough to turn them. And we saw last season how much more effective he is playing alongside a bigger striker.

Steven Thompson is an intriguing option. Although his presence in the eleven tends to encourage the long, hopeful ball forward, his close control is good, and he showed promising signs of a previously untapped reservoir of goals towards the end of last season. nBut the addition of Fletcher in the summer, and now Nugent, seems to have knocked him out of Owen Coyle’s thinking.

Coyle’s loyalty to the players who were central to our promotion last term is admirable, but you fear unless he considers a change of shape or personnel on the road, many more afternoons chasing shadows may well be on the cards.

This article was written for FansOnline Burnley.

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