Chelsea suffered a surprising defeat to Burnley in today’s opening game of the 2017/18 Premier League season, losing 3-2 and ending up with just nine players on the field.
Becoming the first ever title-wining side to concede three goals in the first game of their following season, Chelsea were rocked by a red card given to captain Gary Cahill inside just 15 minutes of the game. This was a chaotic and thrilling game for all but those hoping for a Chelsea win, as the Champions put in an inconsistent performance.
The negative vibes that had been around the Blues and their lack of transfer activity this summer was only deepened by a loss in the Community Shield last Sunday, however no one could possibly have expected the first-half implosion that took place today in South West London. After miscontrolling a ball and lunging in on Steven Defour to win it back, Gary Cahill was shown a straight red on 14 minutes and Chelsea were left utterly shell-shocked.
Though a decision that Cesc Fabregas clearly didn’t agree with – the Spaniard was booked for sarcastically applauding the referee – Cahill’s tackle was undoubtedly a poor one. Whether or not the challenge was worthy of a straight sending off has and will continue to be debated, but the response of going down to ten men from Antonio Conte’s side simply wasn’t good enough.
Burnley took full advantage of the situation and should be highly praised for their dominant first-half display. Goals from Sam Vokes (2) and Stephen Ward gave the Clarets an unprecedented 3-0 lead at the break, as Chelsea failed to cope with their motivated opposition. After the game, Conte admitted his team simply lacked composure following Cahill’s dismissal.
Even before the early red card, this was a below par Chelsea XI. Victor Moses’ absence through suspension meant Cesar Azpilicueta was forced out to play right wing-back while new-signing Antonio Rudiger filled in at centre back alongside David Luiz and Cahill. There was also a start for 20 year-old Jeremie Boga on the left wing due to both Eden Hazard and Pedro being sidelined with injury, though the young Frenchman was the man to be sacrificed for Andreas Christensen as Chelsea went down to ten.
The home dressing room was likely not a place you would have wanted to be just before 4pm this afternoon. Though whatever Conte did say, or perhaps yell, at his players during the interval seemed to have a strong effect.
Chelsea put in a much improved second-half display and showed fantastic fight and commitment to make Burnley work for the three points that seemed so nailed on at half time. Much of the credit for said improvement has to lie with record-signing Alvaro Morata who once introduced in the second period put in a fantastic performance.
The Spaniard was the man to score Chelsea’s first Premier League goal of the season with a well-taken header from a Willian cross after 70 minutes, and also assisted a second for the Blues after flicking the ball on to David Luiz. Ironically, given his standout display, Morata may have ruined a goal between the two that did stand when given offside after touching an Andreas Christensen shot that could have been going in anyway.
The other key negative from the second-half was a second yellow card for Cesc Fabregas leaving Chelsea with nine men prior to David Luiz’s late goal. Both red cards could have an equally negative effect on the club’s next Premier League fixture, given that Conte’s side will now travel to Wembley to face Tottenham knowing Cahill and Fabregas will also be absent from an already thin squad.
Chelsea’s manager praised his team’s performance for the latter period of the game stating that he is “proud” of the response.
With some tough fixtures upcoming, Chelsea do not have long to put things right and must ensure they are able to regain at least some of the positivity that the club enjoyed for so much of last season. Should things fail to improve for another couple of weeks, it is only natural that comparisons to the disastrous 2015/16 title defence intensify.