When considering the ability of a wide player, football fans will usually look towards a player’s goal contribution statistics.
Take Jadon Sancho for example, one of the most exciting and talented forwards in world football right now, with his 20 goals and 20 assists this season seeing him linked with a £100m+ move elsewhere.
But it shouldn’t always be about the statistics.
A winger can still be instrumental to a side while not having the best numbers in terms of goals and assists. This is the case with Burnley’s Dwight McNeil. At first glance, just the two goals and six assists this season in the league isn’t remarkable, not by any stretch of the imagination.
But dig a little deeper and you will find that McNeil is a crucial member of Sean Dyche’s squad. The 20-year-old has started every Premier League game for Burnley in 2019/20, and has played the full 90 minutes 26 times in his side’s opening 32 games. In fact, he has missed just 75 minutes of action.
To continue to rely on McNeil to deliver week after week highlights the trust Dyche has in him. And it’s clear to see why.
McNeil is a manager’s dream. Not only does he have the technical quality to unlock a defence and change a game in a split second, he also has the required work ethic and desire to support his defenders when his side don’t have the ball. Equally, he’s also more than capable of operating on the left, or the right or even up front – but no matter where he plays, the tenacity and desire always remains the same.
Burnley’s win over Crystal Palace on Monday evening saw McNeil play in a second striker role, operating just behind the main attacker. Without needing much time to adjust to the new system, McNeil settled straight in and looked a threat all game long. His clever movement allowed him to pick up pockets of space before gliding effortlessly past defenders and creating openings for his side.
More generally, Burnley sit second bottom among Premier League sides in terms of possession, having managed an average of just 41.59% up to this point. When considering this, it is remarkable to see McNeil’s productivity both in attack and defence.
The winger sits second in terms of forwards with the most tackles made during the 2019/20 campaign, having made 43. In attack, meanwhile, it is McNeil’s ability to drive at a defence and whip in menacing crosses that creates so many problems for opponents.
Indeed, the Burnley man sits sixth in terms of crosses made this term, which places him above the likes of Adama Traore and Willian among many others. When considering the fact that Burnley have seen so little of the ball, it once again highlights McNeil’s understanding of the game and his ability to get into good crossing positions.
At a time when clubs will be feeling the impact of the coronavirus financially, McNeil would be a very shrewd acquisition for any of the Premier League’s big clubs. And while the Clarets will be keen to hold onto him, Dyche has previously admitted that the club will soon be forced to sell him as a result of the interest in him.
Burnley are expected to demand around £30m for his services, with Manchester United, Crystal Palace, Newcastle and, most recently, Manchester City all showing an interest. The Clarets have undoubtedly been hit hard financially as a result of the pandemic, therefore it would be hard to envisage a scenario where they would turn down an offer in the region of £30m, should it come in.
For a player of McNeil’s calibre, this is a very, very reasonable valuation – especially for a player that;s just 20 and has plenty of room to develop. Not only would a club be getting someone who is young and already proven in the Premier League, they would also be getting a driven and determined footballer who is constantly looking to improve.
In a more possession-based team, the former Man Utd academy member would most definitely see a rise in terms of goal contributions, with his fierce crosses and ability to read the game ensuring he could have more of an influence in the attacking third throughout a match. But equally, as he has shown at Burnley, he can still shine in a team that don’t dominate the ball.
At a time when clubs will be looking to do business in the transfer market but are wary about costs due to the current climate, McNeil represents excellent value for money.
Is he the finished article? No, of course not. But standing at six feet tall, with a good physique, phenomenal talent and a willingness to learn and improve, there is no doubting that clubs should be battling for McNeil’s signature.
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