Sat. Jan 16th, 2021

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The man between Manchester United and first place: James Tarkowski

3 min read

Manchester United need just a draw against Burnley on Tuesday night to go top of the Premier League, dislodging fierce rivals Liverpool ahead of Sunday’s showdown at Anfield.

The expectation placed firmly upon Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men to attack their way to first place will play firmly into the hands of Burnley defender James Tarkowski, whose form last year has placed him among the elite centre-backs in the modern game.

Yes, that is correct. Tarkowski might not be competing for major honours with Burnley but his recent form has seen him named among those who are. 

James Tarkowski's recent form has seen him spoken of as one of Europe's best centre-backs

James Tarkowski’s recent form has seen him spoken of as one of Europe’s best centre-backs

Tarkowski will be looking to frustrate Marcus Rashford and Manchester United on Tuesday

Tarkowski will be looking to frustrate Marcus Rashford and Manchester United on Tuesday

Tarkowski tackling Pierre-Emrick Aubamyeang - who he says is among his toughest opponents

Tarkowski tackling Pierre-Emrick Aubamyeang – who he says is among his toughest opponents

His performances in 2020 cannot be underestimated and thanks to recent revelations by statistics website WhoScored, he is starting to be properly appreciated.

Their summary of stats around central defenders for 2020 placed Tarkowski alongside Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk, Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos and Borussia Dortmund’s Mats Hummels as the year’s best defenders.

No player blocked more than the 38 shots Tarkowski managed in 2020 while he ranked second for his 159 clearances and third with 148 aerial duels won.

Tarkowski’s position on the right of Burnley’s central defence sees him form the most vital part of a backline that is the bedrock of Sean Dyche’s setup. 

An uncompromising defence has kept Burnley in the Premier League for the last four seasons arguably more so than any goals or attacking creative play – and that’s not because Burnley don’t work on that side of the game, it’s just testament to the defending that they do so brilliantly.

Tarkowski's form over the last year has seen him rated alongside Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk

Tarkowski’s form over the last year has seen him rated alongside Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk 

He has been a key part of a Burnley defence that has kept six clean sheets so far this season

He has been a key part of a Burnley defence that has kept six clean sheets so far this season

Tarkowski so far only has two England caps to his name

Tarkowski in action for England in a friendly against Italy back in 2018

Tarkowski so far only has two England caps to his name but is backed to win more

This season they already have six clean sheets – only Manchester City, Southampton and Aston Villa have more. Make no mistake, it is a mean challenge for Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Marcus Greenwood to ensure that tally stays the same on Tuesday night.

Tarkowski has highlighted Rashford as one of his hardest opponents in the Premier League.

Speaking to The Athletic about his defensive positional play, Tarkowski said players who drift in from wide left have the potential to disrupt Burnley’s back four and his role alongside right-back Matt Lowton.

‘It is the channel the most dangerous players operate in,’ Tarkowski said. ‘Grealish, Zaha, Rashford, Mane… Aubameyang is really difficult, going from the outside-left position and making those darts in behind you. 

‘If you are left one v one, you are in difficulty but if you back up your team-mate, you condense their space. I am covering Matt Lowton but he will also have assistance from his winger and his central midfielder.’

Tarkowski has long been linked with a big-money move away from Turf Moor and the 28-year-old’s current deal expires in 2022.

Leicester pushed hard to sign him last year and at one point felt they were close to a £37million capture of the two-time England international but Burnley held out and kept their man. 

Tarkowski could have joined Leicester in the summer but Burnley held on to their key man

Tarkowski could have joined Leicester in the summer but Burnley held on to their key man

Burnley boss Sean Dyche is unconcerned that Tarkowski sees his future away from Burnley

Burnley boss Sean Dyche is unconcerned that Tarkowski sees his future away from Burnley

Tarkowski has said that he doesn’t plan to pen a new deal wit the Clarets but boss Dyche is unconcerned by his man defender looking elsewhere.

‘I’ve got no problem with Tarky whatsoever,’ Dyche said. ‘He is a very, very good professional for us. He’s a top player in my opinion.

‘I have said it for months now… I’m amazed he’s not involved in the England team, I think he should be.’

If Tarkowski repels United’s attack on Tuesday, he’ll no doubt catch the eye of Gareth Southgate and some potenital suitors. There is more at stake than just Manchester United’s league position.

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