Burnley winger Dwight McNeil has been putting in the hard yards in his bid to become a better player.
McNeil, who turned 22 this week, is already in his fourth full season as a regular starter for the Clarets and is poised to make his 109th Premier League appearance in Sunday’s home game against Tottenham.
He said he has made a concerted effort to improve his off-the-ball game and Sean Dyche’s side are reaping the benefits.
McNeil, a big Marvel superhero fan who celebrated his birthday on Monday with a Spiderman cake, said: “I think I’m doing that side of the game better and I want to continue getting better.
“As I’ve been playing, as I’ve been learning, I know that the team I’m in at the minute, the way we play, we won’t have the ball in most games as much as other teams.
“You’ve to work as hard without the ball as you do when you have it, especially in our team, it’s so important.”
McNeil has been key to Burnley’s pressing game-plan this season, regularly winning back possession for his side high up the pitch.
“It’s all about reading the game and anticipating the pass that the opposition can play and having those pressing triggers,” he said.
“We know how good teams are in the Premier League and you’ve got to press at the right moments.
“You can’t press in ones or twos because teams can pick you off and that’s the moment they’re looking for.”
McNeil’s hard work has not gone unnoticed by his manager. Dyche said: “Dwight can play in a number of positions, can be creative, he’s still relatively young really and he plays a lot of football.
“People forget that. Other young players play nowhere near the amount of football he plays and he’s becoming a very rounded, very good player.”
The arrival of versatile Ivory Coast forward Maxwel Cornet in August for £12.85million from Lyon has eased the burden on McNeil as an attacking outlet.
Cornet has hit the ground running at Turf Moor, scoring five goals in his first seven Premier League appearances.
McNeil said: “Obviously coming in from a different country it can be difficult, but he’s grasped the opportunity.
“I think he’s been fantastic, for us and for himself, and we all hope it continues for him.”
When asked if Dyche’s current side was the most exciting he had been part of, McNeil added: “Yes, definitely. Since I’ve been here I think it’s the most technical and the most enjoyable I’ve been in.”
Burnley are bidding to extend their unbeaten league run to four games on Sunday and victory could lift them out of the bottom three.