After the long wait, Premier League football was finally back! It was match day one of the new season. Chelsea FC were the reigning champions, having won the league with games to spare – just like in 2015. They had also lost their Community Shield opener to Arsenal – just like in 2015. Club manager Antonio Conte and his players were desperate to avoid any further parallels to predecessor Jose Mourinho’s disastrous final season at the club.
Chelsea had endured a challenging run up to the new season, following two wins against Fulham and Arsenal with two tough losses against Bayern Munich and Inter Milan. A tumultuous summer transfer window had also resulted in significant changes to their starting line-up, with Nemanja Matic off to Manchester United, top scorer Diego Costa in exile and talisman Eden Hazard injured. Although they should have been consolidating this season, Chelsea were once again firmly in transition mode.
Burnley FC had enjoyed slightly better fortunes in their pre-season fixtures, though not against the same class of opponent. They’d recorded four wins then two draws, with the last two against Nottingham Forest away (1 – 1) and Celta de Vigo at home (2 – 2). They had lost some big players in the window, Michael Keane joining Everton for just under £26m, and George Boyd, Andre Gray and Michael Kightly also departing, but they’d also signed replacements with premier league experience, Jonathan Walters, Jack Cork and Phil Bardsley coming in for a combined £11m.
Chelsea made two changes to their line-up from the Community Shield. Antonio Rudiger and Jeremie Boga came in for Victor Moses and Pedro, who had both missed this opening game serving suspensions from previous matches.
Chelsea Courtois, Rudiger, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill, Alonso, Fabregas, Kante, Willian, Boga (Christensen (Musonda)), Batshuayi (Morata)
Subs Caballero, Christensen, Tomori, Scott, Kenedy, Musonda, Morata
Burnley Heaton, Tarkowski, Mee, Lowton, Ward, Gudmundsson (Arfield), Hendrick, Defour (Walters), Cork, Brady, Vokes
Subs Taylor, Barnes, Walters, Pope, Long, Westwood, Arfield
Chelsea dominated possession, creating chances and almost living in Burnley’s half – until the 13th minute, and the refereeing decision that changed the game. Gary Cahill carried the ball up the pitch, but was about to lose possession to Steven Defour, and attempted a quick lunge to win it back. His challenge wasn’t two-footed, but his studs were showing and a slight contact was made. Match referee Craig Pawson showed no hesitation, producing a red card to send Chelsea’s captain off.
Three minutes later Cesc Fabregas also picked up a booking, this one for sarcastically applauding the ref’s choice to only award a free kick for a foul on Willian. Conte then gave Andreas Christensen his premier league debut, bringing him on in place of Jeremie Boga to maintain a 3-4-2, and cover the loss of Cahill at center back.
All at Sea
You might think that even with ten men, the EPL champions would still be able to make a game of it against last season’s 16th placed side. It wasn’t the case though. On 24 minutes, Burnley scored off a speculative cross in from Matt Lowton to Sam Vokes. Chelsea’s defenders had lost track of the Burnley striker, and Vokes had space and time to volley the ball off the pitch and into the net.
Bad to Worse
Burnley were growing in confidence, keeping hold of the ball and testing Chelsea’s defence. On 39 minutes Stephen Ward made his way up their left flank, then passed to ex-Chelsea player Jack Cork. Cork returned a fine looping pass to him on the left side of Chelsea’s box. It was a narrow angle, and there shouldn’t have been much danger, but Ward somehow saw an opening and cracked a beautiful half-volley across Thibaut Courtois and into the opposite corner of the net.
Within four minutes of their second, Burnley scored a third goal, this time off a set piece. In an almost exact duplicate of their first, Steven Defour received a pass and put an early cross into the penalty area. Sam Vokes, again unmarked by David Luiz and Marcos Alonso, opted to head it in this time.
The half time whistle must have been a huge relief for Conte’s men. Chelsea were reeling, and Burnley were 3 – 0 up half time at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea showed better concentration, organization and match control after the break, but still found it difficult to force a breakthrough up top. Despite their efforts though, Vokes got another free header off a 56th minute corner, but this time he nodded the ball wide.
On 58 minutes Chelsea’s record signing Alvaro Morata came on for Michy Batshuayi. It had been a pretty poor game for Michy, with a lack of intelligent movement severely limiting his effectiveness. The substitution was the best thing both for him and the team. Although he’d had a great pre-season, tallying five goals and four assists in just four games, he had not followed it up with quality performances in his two competitive starts.
Robbie Brady earned Burnley’s first booking of the game, off a body check on Willian on the hour mark. Marcos Alonso took Chelsea’s free kick, curling it towards the top corner, but Tom Heaton pulled off a good save to deny him. Shortly afterwards, Ben Mee clattered through Morata to get to the ball on the right wing, and was also cautioned for Burnley. Chelsea continued to show an inability to deal with crosses of any kind though. Berg Gudmundsson put a high ball all the way through to Robbie Brady on the opposite side of Chelsea’s area. Brady made contact with the ball, but was slightly put off by Willian and so could not get the right angle on his header.
PL Debut Goal
Chelsea then began to use Burnley’s early crossing tactics against them, to good effect. Cesc Fabregas passed the ball to Willian wide right. Willian paused to survey the area, and spotted Morata starting a run round his marker and into the six-yard box. He lofted a through ball in and over the defensive line, and Morata glanced the ball into the bottom corner for Chelsea’s first goal.
It seemed the home side had spotted a weakness, and they tried repeatedly to exploit it. Starting from the left wing this time, Willian dribbled into a central area, then lobbed another through ball into the narrow space between back line and keeper. This time Andreas Christensen got to it, and he fired an angled cross for Morata to divert in right on the goal line. At first it looked like a perfectly legitimate goal, but it was correctly ruled out, as Morata was just offside when Christensen hit the pass.
On 75 minutes, Ben Mee had another free header off a corner, but this time it was held by Courtois. Down the other end, Arfield received a booking for a challenge on Alonso on Chelsea’s left wing.
Nine versus Eleven
Chelsea had been showing more intent and quality since Morata had been subbed in, but on 80 minutes things took yet another turn for the worse. Cesc Fabregas made a late challenge on Jack Cork, and got his second yellow card of the day. Although the first sending off was debatable, this second one was justified. Chelsea were down to nine men with only ten minutes of normal time left to play.
By the 88th minute Burnley had settled into their half to run down the clock. Cesar Azpilicueta took advantage, and booted a long ball from the halfway line over to Morata on the edge of the area. Morata headed the ball backwards over himself and into the box, and David Luiz raced in behind for a first-time finish. It was a smoothly flowing, well-taken goal, Morata and Luiz with just one touch each. It led one to wonder what might have happened if Morata had started in place of, or alongside Michy, or Gary Cahill had not been sent off so early.
There was still time for some late drama, Burnley awarded a free kick and Rudiger yellow carded for a slight collision on the edge of the box. It shouldn’t even have resulted in a foul, but the decision was consistent with the refereeing standards this game. Robbie Brady struck the post with his free kick, before the danger was cleared. At the end despite a late Chelsea push, the match wound up 3 – 2 to the visitors.
Final Score Chelsea 2 – 3 Burnley
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Getty Pictures
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