Two seasons after Leicester’s improbable title triumph, another soccer fairytale might be unfolding in the English Premier League.
They are unlikely to emulate Leicester in winning the league, but the players and coach of unfashionable northwest club Burnley are starting to dream of playing in the Champions League next season.
Burnley scored an 89th-minute goal to beat Stoke 1-0 on Tuesday and climb into the top four of England’s top flight for the first time since March 1975.
A supposed candidate for relegation after selling two of its best players in the off-season, Burnley has won nine of its 17 games, conceded just 12 goals, and currently sits above Liverpool, Arsenal, and Tottenham with nearly half the season gone.
They’ve already beaten Chelsea away, and drawn at Tottenham and Liverpool.
"Leicester blew the roof off the dreams of football," Burnley manager Sean Dyche said. "Now, no bold statements from me about that, by the way, I must make that clear. But there’s an open-mindedness to the group.
"If you are going to dream, you have to be prepared to make the dreams come true. That’s what we are trying to do."
A founding member of the Football League in 1888 and the English champion in 1921 and 1960, Burnley hasn’t finished a season higher than sixth place since 1974. A downturn saw the club drop out of the top division for 33 years and, in 1987, almost fall out of the professional leagues.
Burnley is in its second season back in the top flight, having avoided relegation only because of its strong home form. Now it is hard to beat home or away, with Dyche moulding a hard-working, well-organized and defensively compact team.
All this after selling defender Michael Keane and striker Andre Gray for a combined $65 million over the summer, helping the club return a profit of about $20 million when most of the rest of the Premier League was spending freely.
"I keep reality because this division will eat you alive," said Dyche, who was a no-nonsense centre back as a player and is one of the characters of the Premier League with his distinctive gravel-toned voice.
"We’re having a real go at what we can achieve this season. I’m not being negative. I’m a realist. There’s a lot of challenges coming our way. The fans and the town have got to enjoy these times. Why wouldn’t you?"
Substitute striker Ashley Barnes scored the winner for Burnley, which is four points behind third-place Chelsea, as the latest midweek round of Premier League games began.
The absence of Alvaro Morata because of a back injury allowed Chelsea manager Antonio Conte to shuffle his forward line. One of those to benefit was Willian.
The Brazil international scored either side of setting up goals for Tiemoue Bakayoko and Pedro Rodriguez in Chelsea’s 3-1 win at Huddersfield.
Chelsea bounced back from a surprising loss at West Ham, after which Conte said the team was out of the title race, and moved level on points with second-place Manchester United. They are 11 points behind Manchester City.
Huddersfield grabbed a late consolation through substitute Laurent Depoitre.
PALACE LATE SHOW
Crystal Palace is out of the relegation zone for the first time this season thanks to a dramatic finale in a 2-1 home win over Watford.
Watford was leading 1-0 when its midfielder, Tom Cleverley, was sent off in the 87th for a second yellow card. The visitors conceded an equalizer to Bakary Sako in the 89th and Palace clinched victory in the second minute of injury time when James McArthur scored from a cross by Wilfried Zaha.
Palace moved to fourth from bottom, continuing its recovery under Roy Hodgson after he took over from the fired Frank De Boer just four games into the season.
Watford took the lead through Daryl Janmaat in the third minute.