TALKING TACTICS: Midfield battle will be critical

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SCOUT Phil Smith looks ahead to the key battles in store as Burnley travel to Oakwell to take on Barnsley on Tuesday night.

Barnsley finished 17th in the Championship last campaign.

Only a fool would bet against the South Yorkshire outfit faring considerably better this term.

Keith Hill and David Flitcroft have brought their football philosophy to Oakwell, and deserve all the praise currently heading in their direction.

Expect our opponents to line up 4-4-1-1.

Andy Gray will lead the line, with Jacob Butterfield tucked in behind.

A high tempo will be adopted.

This fixture will be decided in the middle of the park.

Our opponents will look to dominate in midfield.

This may not be particularly pleasing on the eye of the neutral, but few can question its effectiveness.

The key battle of the evening will be Danny Drinkwater against Marvin Bartley.The Manchester United loanee is the epitome of a box to box midfielder. Aggressive second balls are to be expected with both men looking to exert a stranglehold on the game and organise the shape of their respective team.

While not on the same scale as the legendary tussles between Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira, the pair will have a key role in determining how the points are allocated.

Caution must be paid to the ability of Drinkwater from dead ball situations. He will not be afraid to test Lee Grant from distance. A combination is unlikely, and thus I would err on the side of caution and construct a wall of four.

Burnley must not underestimate the creativity of Jim O`Brien. It would be reasonable to suggest that, after being selected in the PFA Scotland team of the year prior to arriving at Oakwell, that much more was expected of the former Motherwell man last season. He flattered to deceive. That has not been the story this campaign.

Burnley must be aware of diagonal balls over the shoulder of Brian Easton. This will look to free the winger into space behind our defensive line to deliver the ball into the danger zone. Gray will look to pounce (see diagram). Expect the former Caret to attack the penalty spot.

I wonder if Andy regrets the decision he made to sign for Charlton Athletic in 2008? His reported refusal to play at Coventry ensures that he will always receive a frosty reception from several Burnley fans.

Luke Steele has benefitted immensely from the guidance of Hill. His distribution and ability to command the area have improved dramatically since the former Rochdale manager arrived in June. However, question marks remain over his reflexes. Drill the ball low and hard into the corners.

It would not be a leap of faith to suggest that, but for poor finishing, Barnsley would be sitting in a much healthier league position. Nonetheless, as I highlighted on Friday, if Burnley harbour ambitions of achievement, then, in all honesty, this is the type of fixture in which they should be looking to profit.