Burnley and their manager Sean Dyche have been hard at work plotting this summer’s transfer business in order to gear up for life in the Premier League, in a bid to finally beat the drop.
One of the most potentially exciting targets that the Clarets have identified is Brighton & Hove Albion ‘s creative midfield man Dale Stephens – their contingency target after a £3.5 million bid for Jeff Hendrick was rejected by Derby County. Dyche is seeking out such a player to form a vital part of his midfield as top flight life looms once more on the horizon for the Lancashire outfit.
Stephens was an integral part of a Seagulls side that earned themselves a Championship play-off berth in 2015-16, losing out on automatic promotion on the final day before seeing their run and their dreams of the Premier League end at the semi-final stage, falling to Sheffield Wednesday. Stephens already has a promotion on his CV, having been a mainstay in the Chris Powell ‘s Charlton Athletic team which won promotion from League One in 2011-12.
With a tally of seven goals throughout the previous season with Brighton but having played the in the majority of their games, Stephens would undoubtedly be a huge miss for his current employers were he to up sticks and make the move back north to his home county, but what would he bring to Burnley ‘s midfield?
Burnley’s fresh acquisition would not just be a strong creative presence, having been praised by former Brighton coach Oscar García for his dynamism, energy and technical ability, but also a player who is tenacious and tough-tackling in midfield, and one who relishes the aerial and physical battles. He certainly isn’t shy in getting stuck in, as shown by his red card on the final day of last season at the Riverside and his ten yellow cards accumulated throughout the season.
In Burnley’s typically four-man midfield, Stephens may predictably take a deep lying role, pulling the strings, but also contributing in protecting the back four whilst providing service to wingers George Boyd and Scott Arfield. Though the playmaker is versatile, and it may not be out of the question for Sean Dyche to deploy him in a more advanced role in the midfield in order to provide the engine going forward and that little creative flair behind forwards Andre Gray and Sam Vokes, in order to fill the void vacated by Joey Barton who has departed for Rangers.
Only tried and tested at League One and Championship level, the dizzy heights of the Premier League would undoubtedly be a step up for the 27-year-old, but he has the attributes of an all round complete midfielder and there is no reason to believe he wouldn’t do well in Burnley’s midfield.
However, early in the season, it may be a learning curve for the young midfielder, who needed a few weeks of bedding in to really make an impact at Brighton after his move to the South Coast from South East London. Losing a seasoned Premier League midfielder in Barton was a blow, and Clarets fans will be hoping that if they get their man, he’ll hit the ground running,
If this is not the case, then their first few fixtures against Swansea, Liverpool and Chelsea could prove a real baptism of fire not just for the player but for his team, who will be desperate for a strong start against the Swans particularly to aid their survival bid.
Even if Burnley were to miss out on Stephens, the player has all the qualities necessary to make the grade in the top flight, so one should not be surprised to see him lining up in a Premier League midfield before too long. Whoever that may be remains to be seen, but Burnley are the first to have him in their sights and only time will tell if firstly he will sign on the dotted line and secondly if he will have the impact required. Though one thing is for certain, his progress will be fascinating and he is definitely one to keep an eye on.