Thursday 19th April, Turf Moor – Chelsea were up in Lancashire for their Thursday night premier league fixture vs Burnley FC. The visitors were 5th on the log and their hosts 7th, but in terms of recent form, Sean Dyche’s team weren’t just ahead of Chelsea: they were absolute top of the league.
Yes. Burnley were doing better than Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, better than Mourinho’s United, Klopp’s Liverpool, Pochettino’s Spurs and Wenger’s Arsenal. Five wins and a draw in their last six, sixteen points from a possible eighteen. Ten full places ahead of the Blues on the form table, way back in 11th with just two wins and a draw in the same period of time.
When these two teams met at the start of the 2014/15 season, the game set the tone for the rest of the campaign – Chelsea swept Burnley away on the strength of well-taken goals from Diego Costa, Andre Schurrle and Branislav Ivanovic. Cesc Fabregas was pulling the strings in midfield. The West London club ultimately went on to win the league that season.
Fast forward to 2017/18, and the league opener was also predictive of Chelsea’s season. Gary Cahill was sent off on 14 minutes, and Sam Vokes and Stephen Ward had Burnley 3-0 up by half time. Marcos Alonso and David Luiz scored, but it wasn’t enough, and the reigning league champions carried on with a disappointing season from there.
Back to tonight’s game: with the FA Cup semis less than 72 hours away, Antonio Conte made six changes to the team that started the previous fixture. Emerson Palmieri made his league debut in place of Marcos Alonso, who was serving a suspension even as he was named to the EPL team of the season. Tiemoue Bakayoko made a rare start, and Pedro, Antonio Rudiger and Victor Moses were also on the pitch for Chelsea.
Interestingly, Conte also changed his team’s shape; combining defensive strength with attacking intent in a 3-5-2 formation. Pedro was alongside Bakayoko and N’golo Kante back in midfield, and Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata were the two strikers up top. Ethan Ampadu, David Luiz and Danny Drinkwater all missed the game through injury.
Sean Dyche set his team out in a 4-4-2, and named the same starters as in their previous game, a 2-1 home win vs Leicester City. Top scorer Chris Wood started in attack alongside Ashley Barnes. Jon Walters, Ben Mee, Robbie Brady, Scott Arfield and Steven Defour were all out injured for Burnley FC.
Line-Ups & Ratings
BurnleyPope 6.5, Lowton 5.5, Long 5, Tarkowski 7, Ward 4, Lennon 6 (Wells 5), Cork 5.5, Westwood 5.5, Gudmundsson 7.5, Barnes 7, Wood 5.5 (Vokes 5.5)
Subs Heaton, Taylor, Marney, Hendrick, Wells, Bardsley, Vokes
ChelseaCourtois 7.5, Moses 8.5, Azpilicueta 7, Cahill 8, Rudiger 6.5, Emerson 7.5 (Zappacosta 6.5), Kante 7, Bakayoko 6, Pedro 7.5, Morata 7 (Hazard 7.5), Giroud 7
Subs Caballero, Zappacosta, Christensen, Fabregas, Barkley, Hazard, Willian
Burnley found it difficult to cope with the flood of Chelsea players in midfield, and their defence was kept pinned back and busy by Chelsea’s two strikers for much of the game. Chelsea were able to press up high into their opponent’s half, and deal effectively with Burnley’s long balls over the top when they inevitably came in.
The opening goal came twenty minutes into the game, on one of the rare occasions Burnley ventured up the pitch in numbers in the first half. Cahill had possession just behind the halfway line, and spotted Moses making a run wide right. He played the perfect long ball out to him, and Moses dribbled to the by-line and hooked a cross back, just inside Stephen Ward. Kevin Long got to the ball first, but only succeeded in turning it into his own goal for 1-0.
Giroud slipped Morata through shortly afterwards but the Spaniard put his shot too close to Nick Pope, and it was saved. Kante also made a good opportunity for himself with a dribbling run to the edge of the box, but his finish showed little or no composure: it was high and wide.
Morata had another brilliant chance when he received the ball in Chelsea’s half on the counter and sprinted all the way into a one on one with Pope. Like so many times this season though, having done all the hard work Morata couldn’t find the finish on a great move: his shot was just wide of the post.
Burnley eventually had their equalizer nineteen minutes into the second half, and it was a really good one. They came up the pitch on a quick counterattack. Johann Gudmundsson, the Clarets top assist man this season, received possession from Ashley Westwood out right, dribbled inside and rifled a shot at goal.
Courtois might have had it covered, but Ashley Barnes stepped in to redirect the ball off his heel, and into the far corner for 1-1. The away defence appealed for offside, but replays showed Barnes was onside, good goal.
Chelsea have collapsed spectacularly in similar circumstances, so many times this season. Today though they weren’t having it. Just five minutes after the Burnley goal, they were ahead again.
Emerson Palmieri looped an early cross in from the left wing. The ball whizzed behind Giroud and Morata in the penalty area, but Moses, who’d been truly excellent all game, trapped it just right of the six-yard box then beat Pope at the near post with a low shot for 2-1.
Eden Hazard and Davide Zappacosta came on for Morata and Emerson late on, and Sam Vokes replaced Chris Wood for the home team.
Ashley Barnes almost nodded on to Vokes in the box off a late corner, but his pass was intercepted. Zappacosta also rose to connect with a Moses cross in the last few minutes, but his header went wide under defensive pressure.
Chelsea held on for the win and moved up to 63 points, 5 points behind Tottenham in fourth. Burnley stayed seventh on 52 points, only 2 points behind Arsenal but with one more game played than the Gunners.
Final Score Burnley 1-2 Chelsea
Thumbnail image courtesy of: 101 Great Goals
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