Chris Wood bagged a hat-trick and the lion’s share of the plaudits. However, it’s a shame more people aren’t talking about McNeil – he was similarly phenomenal.
The 21-year-old was lively, composed on the ball and made some intelligent passes. A powerful dribbler who can be a nightmare for any fullback, McNeil has shown oceans of promise at Turf Moor.
In addition, he’s an adept set-piece taker – his corner against Wolves set up Wood to complete his hat-trick. Goalscoring isn’t his strength, but this can be attributed to how deep Burnley play. Generally, McNeil doesn’t have much of a chance to get into the box.
The past few years, this one included, have been momentous for young Dwight. Let’s see how it all started for this future star and where he’s likely to end up.
Dwight McNeil: An Underrated Gem
McNeil Moving Up Through the Ranks at Burnley
Dwight McNeil hasn’t had it all his own way in football. A childhood Manchester United fan, he was initially given a chance in their acclaimed academy. However, he was let go by the Red Devils and left heartbroken, after his crossing was deemed insufficient. Strange, when you consider it’s now one of his strongest attributes.
Despite this, McNeil was given another shot at professional football by Burnley in 2014. The Clarets had just secured promotion to the Premier League, where they remain to this day.
He put his head down, worked hard and earned himself a contract for Burnley’s U18s in 2016. Here, he continued to improve and was awarded Burnley’s Young Player of the Season award for 2017/18.
His impressive development manifested itself into a professional contract, which he signed in April 2018. This was followed up with his professional debut the next month on the final day of the season. While 2017/18 was certainly a massive year for the youngster, it was the next campaign where he began turning heads.
He bagged his first senior goal against West Ham United in December of 2018, helping Burnley to a 2-0 victory. His first of seven goals for the Clarets, a respectable return considering how defensive they generally are.
In 2019, McNeil went from strength to strength. He was called up to England’s U20s in March and scored his first goal for the Young Lions against Guatemala.
Dwight McNeil this Season at Burnley
So far this season, McNeil has accumulated two goals and six assists for Burnley. One of them was a genuine goal of the season contender against Everton, where he weaved through the midfield and curled a sublime effort past Jordan Pickford.
He’s been one of Burnley’s best players for a couple of seasons now and is always improving. Generally, McNeil finds himself deployed as the left winger in Burnley’s 4-4-2 system.
While this has its drawbacks, namely McNeil’s goal output, it does allow him to flex some of his strengths. For example, he can be very effective when crossing from deep positions.
It also gives him plenty of space to run into. While not the quickest winger in the world, he loves to take on his man whilst driving forwards with the ball. Using this talent, he can open up a defence on the wide-angle and create space in the middle.
He hasn’t shirked his defensive duties this year either. He has made 30 interceptions and 38 tackles this season, unusually high for a winger. Sean Dyche likes all of his players to make defensive contributions, so this is likely the reason for this.
The high work rate that Dyche has embedded into him makes him a great example of an old-fashioned winger, with modern attributes to go along with it.
McNeil is a great fit at Burnley, but it’s difficult to shake the feeling that their setup is restrictive to him. In a more aggressive, high-pressing team, he’d almost certainly flourish.
What Does the Future Hold for McNeil?
Clubs have shown interest in signing McNeil from Burnley, including Aston Villa and Manchester United.
The initial price for him has been set at £50 million, which is standard these days for promising English starlets. Considering he has recently signed a long-term deal with the Clarets, this is no surprise.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see him back in Manchester. He clearly has an affinity for the club, and United have been known to purchase former youngsters for high fees in the past. Paul Pogba is a good example of this.
Daniel James has been unimpressive at Old Trafford so far. McNeil would be a great replacement for him should United wish to move him on. However, if he wishes to carve out a permanent first-team spot, Villa should be his preferred option.
He’d be a great addition to the squad at Villa Park. His runs down the side would allow him to cross to Ollie Watkins, whilst also creating space for Jack Grealish centrally.
The internationals are a different beast. With many young English talents rising up, McNeil may be in danger of getting lost in the pack.
He won’t be picked over the likes of Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford. However, as international teams can now name a 26-man squad for the Euros, his chances of being included have increased.
Should Gareth Southgate take a gamble on him? It’s hard to say. It’s difficult to see where he’d fit into a Southgate system.
McNeil is a talented young man and time is on his side. Going under the radar may be to his advantage – we’ve seen so many prospects crumble after being hyped up. Let’s hope he can remain focused and become the best player he can possibly be.