As Dan Burn’s huge, battered body made its way off the pitch after a torrid run against Luton Town last weekend, chants of ‘Tino, Tino’ filled the air at St James’ Park.
The mood was angry. The home fans called for the introduction of Tino Livramento, who was quickly removing his tracksuit on the touchline alongside manager Eddie Howe.
Newcastle trailed 4-2 at home to a side battling relegation. Burn had already been awarded a penalty for the visitors’ third goal, again embarrassed and exposed by the pace of Luton winger Chiedozie Ogbene.
Minutes later, Burn gave the ball away in the middle of the pitch and Luton had broken away to score their fourth goal. The Geordie crowd turned on one of their own.
Burn is a central defender who can play as a left back. Over the past 18 months he has played most of his football for the club he supported as a boy at wing-back, but his appearance at Luton was the culmination of a worrying trend of opponents repeatedly targeting the left.
A few days earlier, during the fantastic 3-1 away win at Aston Villa, Newcastle had briefly threatened to throw away the win when Unai Emery brought in an equally direct and quick winger in Leon Bailey to expose Burn’s lack of mobility and pace. Howe saw the danger and brought in Livramento to quell Bailey’s ominous threat to his team’s lead.
Livramento is a right-back who was signed from Southampton for £32 million last summer with the idea he would replace Kieran Trippier, but he can play on the left and did so well when Burn was out injured with a back problem that may still be problematic . it.
To make matters worse, Newcastle also signed a specialist left-back from Chelsea in the summer, paying a £4m loan fee for Lewis Hall in what will become a £28m transfer at the end of the season. Hall has only started one Premier League match and sources say Telegraph Sports he still has a lot to learn about what Howe wants from him.
Newcastle had a limited transfer budget in the summer due to Profit and Sustainability rules and still spent £60 million on two full-backs who could not dislodge Burn from the starting line-up when fit.
Telegraph Sports reveals why Burn has been so important to Newcastle since his £12m signing from Brighton two years ago and takes a look at what happens next.
The case for Dan Burn’s defense
When you speak to any member of Newcastle’s coaching staff they will praise Burn. He is a ‘warrior’ and a ‘leader’ and was an integral part of a defense that conceded the fewest goals in the Premier League last season alongside champions Manchester City. He is a role model for the younger players at the club and as a local boy he has been crucial in creating that link between the city, the fans and the football club.
He also, very rarely, let anyone down. At least before the back injury he suffered when he landed awkwardly in a 1-0 win over Arsenal in early November. Burn was sorely missed during Newcastle’s dreadful run of results in December which saw them knocked out of Europe and the Carabao Cup.
There are also good tactical reasons why Burn plays: he is better in the air and defends in his own penalty area than both central defenders Fabian Schar and Sven Botman. In theory, he adds an extra layer of security against teams who might bomb Newcastle’s box from the air, especially at set pieces.
He has also scored a number of crucial goals this season, including the crucial second against Paris Saint-Germain in the 4-1 Champions League win and again in the FA Cup fourth round victory over Fulham last month.
It is his presence that reassures Howe, not only in both boxes, but in the team as a whole. When he has Anthony Gordon in front of him, constantly running back to help defend against a winger, Burn is much less likely to become isolated. His limitations are masked because he has help and a good relationship with Gordon.
Against Luton, Gordon had to play through the middle due to injuries to Alexander Isak and Callum Wilson. Neither Miguel Almirón, who is also not fully fit, nor Jacob Murphy performed the same kind of defensive task and Burn and Newcastle were repeatedly exposed down that flank.
The case for Tino Livramento
Newcastle knew what they were getting when they signed the 21-year-old from Southampton. Livramento is an athletic and astute defender and also dangerous in the future. He is fast, has beautiful balance and good ball control.
He looks much more typical as an attacking full-back compared to the bigger and more cumbersome Burn. That’s part of the problem: people see him as a modern full-back who will, at least in theory, provide what Trippier does on the other flank.
During Burn’s injury, Livramento has shown a lot of promise and should become one of the best full-backs in the country. He can attack from the left, even though he usually plays on the right, in a way that Burn simply cannot.
It’s probably time to show more faith in him, even if that will reduce Newcastle’s aerial firepower, especially after what happened against Luton.
Newcastle haven’t conceded that many goals this season – 37 in the league, which is already four more than they conceded over the course of last season – only because Burn was playing at left-back.
Rather than change personnel and make the popular decision to drop Burn and bring in Livramento, Newcastle could change their system, going to three at the back against Forest (with Burn as one of the centre-backs) and signing Livramento and Trippier can play further forward. This would allow one of the midfielders to sit in front of the back line and provide more protection.
Whatever decision Howe makes, it feels wrong to make Burn the scapegoat. He has his limitations, but he also has important strengths. Without the 31-year-old, Newcastle would not have made the progress they have made over the past two years. This should not be forgotten, even though it is time for change.