James Tarkowski capable of filling the void left by Michael Keane at Burnley
James Tarkowski made his first Premier League start for Burnley last weekend and in excelling in his side's 2-0 win at Crystal Palace, he gave manager Sean Dyche something to ponder.
With key defender Michael Keane virtually certain to move on to bigger things at the end of the season, the Clarets are going to have to replace arguably their star performer, with Keane the only player in the team to have played every minute of the campaign to date.
The England international has been linked with all of England's elite clubs and the only question is how much money the club can expect to receive for the 24-year-old, who will only have a year left on his contract at the end of the season.
Luckily for Dyche, he has a ready-made replacement who can step straight into the team. Tarkowski has had to be exceptionally patient since joining from Brentford last January, impressing in his cameos from the bench and appearances in the cups.
With Ben Mee missing out due to a shin injury, Tarkowski partnered Keane at Selhurst Park and helped the team to record their 11th league clean sheet of the season, with the defender largely unruffled and managing to keep Palace striker Christian Benteke relatively quiet.
Tarkowski even had to shrug off being hit by an object thrown by the crowd as Burnley celebrated their opening goal, the incident not affecting his performance in the slightest, which is a sign of his relaxed and calm attitude.
A similar player to Keane in the way he reads the game and likes to play the ball out from the back, Tarkowski would appear to be a natural replacement for his teammate and he has the attributes to be a good partner for Mee, should that be what Dyche opts for next season.
Dyche has been wise to keep Tarkowski involved throughout the campaign, even if he has played a lot of his appearances as an emergency midfielder, coming on with just a few minutes to go in games. Dyche's reward will be a player who is raring to go and desperate to prove himself.
It can be argued that Burnley should look to improve on what they have with the Keane money, but it is hard to imagine the club could afford or attract a player of his quality and Tarkowski has certainly earned the right to show he can be Keane's successor. He might well turn out to be just as good as Keane if he is given an extended opportunity to show what he can do.
With survival almost guaranteed as a result of last weekend's win at Palace -- the team's first victory away from home all season -- Dyche can afford to give Tarkowski an extended trial in the team. He should start each of the three remaining games this season, whether he is partnered by Keane or by Mee, when he returns to full fitness.
While the Burnley manager is not known for his experimentation, keeping Tarkowski in the team appears to be a no-brainer of a decision now that the pressure is off.
A match against goal-shy West Brom on Saturday is the ideal opportunity to give Tarkowski another start, with Tony Pulis' men failing to score a single goal in their last five Premier League matches, losing four in a row, the last three of which have been at home.
Pulis sides have a tendency to switch off once they are past the 40-point mark -- the Clarets would cross it themselves were they to beat the Baggies at Turf Moor -- which they should given the circumstances and the strength of their form at home all season.
It would be an 11th home win of the campaign and Pulis' assertion that Dyche should be in the running for the manager of the year award is a fair one. Both bosses have massively over-performed considering the resources available to them and few would have guessed that West Brom and Burnley -- who are just two points off ninth place -- could finish in the top half.
The Clarets will also be out for revenge this weekend, having been trounced 4-0 at The Hawthorns earlier in the campaign, while they dropped a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 when West Brom last visited Turf Moor. Victory on Saturday would be a sweet one for Dyche and his team.