Go back some 51 years and you’ll see how Burnley were fired to the quarter-finals of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup by a Scottish striker called Andy Lochhead when they last played in Europe.

More than a half-century later, they end their exodus from continental club competitions with a Europa League second qualifying round tie against Scottish Premiership side Aberdeen.

The draw pits Sean Dyche’s side with the Dons first at Pittodrie on Thursday, 26 July before taking them back to Turf Moor seven days later. It means Burnley will have to play a minimum of six games, and crucially win three ties including a play-off that could be against a side that doesn’t make it through Champions League qualifying, just to reach the Europa League proper.

For long-time Clarets supporters who remember the near oblivion of almost losing English Football League status in 1987 and being a third-tier club at the turn of the century, a European campaign after finishing seventh in the top flight last term is the stuff of dreams.

Although there is still some way for Dyche and his core of homegrown players from the British Isles to go before reaching the Europa League group stage, even neutrals can’t help but wish Burnley well.

A club of modest means, very much in the shade cast by more illustrious Premier League sides from the Northwest like reigning champions of England Manchester City and Champions League runners-up Liverpool, playing in Europe may actually prove to be the biggest gamble ever taken at Turf Moor.

Only the most passionate supporter could think of backing Burnley to go all the way and win the Europa League at 100/1. They are lovable underdogs, but surely not a serious betting prospect.

Turf Moor Longside” (CC BY 2.0) by adam.haworth

Should they make it through qualifying and into the group stage, the Clarets will have to handle playing most Thursday nights and at the weekend in the Premier League. That is going to stretch their squad and Burnley are as short at 11/4 with some bookmakers to be relegated this season.

And that is precisely why any progress in Europe is a gamble. You can get enhanced odds of 9/2 for Dyche’s side to go down as there have to be questions marks over how resources will cope.

While everyone at Turf Moor has to embrace the experience of a Europa League campaign, having worked hard to get closest to the top six, this is something of an acid test.

The Clarets are 4/1 to repeat their top 10 finish in the Premier League in 2018-19, with the only saving grace being their current squad had minimal involvement at the World Cup in Russia.

Nick Pope warmed the England bench as Gareth Southgate’s third-choice keeper, so Iceland winger Johann Berg Gudmundsson was the only Burnley player to turn out at the tournament.

A well-rested squad notwithstanding, Dyche has to get his team ready to navigate Europa League qualifying more than two weeks before their Premier League opener on the south coast at Southampton.

“Sean Dyche” (CC BY 2.0) by Ronnie Macdonald

There is an opportunity here, however, for players such as Pope and James Tarkowski, who are in and around the fringes of the England setup to prove themselves at a higher level.

What Dyche must ensure is his maiden campaign in Europe does not come at paying the ultimate price with Burnley fifth or sixth favourites for relegation.

Advertisements