Chelsea produced their finest Premier League performance for some time against Burnley on Saturday, and as a result finished the day at the top of the table by beating the Lancashire side 3-0. Goals from Hazard, Willian and Moses made light work of a terribly lacklustre Burnley side, who would have been considered a real threat following their 2-0 win against Liverpool last weekend. In fact, one could be forgiven for thinking that Burnley had set out to finish the game with an even lower possession stat, judging by the way they used the ball during the game.
The Blues lined up with one change to the side that started against Watford a week ago, with fit-again Willian replacing Pedro. Courtois returned to the number one spot after Begovic’s cameo in the League Cup, and a familiar quartet of Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry and Azpilicueta sat behind summer signing Kante. Willian and Hazard sat on the wings, Oscar and Matic played in the centre, and Costa started in attack; a 4-1-4-1 formation seeming to be Conte’s preferred way of playing.
Heaton started in goal for the Clarets; Lowton, Keane, Mee and Ward started in defence; Arfield, Defour, Marney and Boyd lined up across the middle; Gray and Vokes started in attack.
Burnley didn’t start the game as lethargic as they finished it, and they even put the Chelsea back four under a little bit of pressure in the opening five minutes. Courtois remained untested, however, and Chelsea soon started controlling the tempo. If Burnley intended to shut out Chelsea and take the few chances they would create – as they did so effectively against Liverpool – then it would be imperative that they didn’t concede an early goal. There was little they could do about Chelsea’s opener, though. In the ninth minute, Eden Hazard charged at the Burnley defence, showing sublime skill before expertly placing a side-footed shot past Heaton. It was a wonderful goal and it illustrated exactly what the Belgian is so good at.
Chelsea kept playing at a scintillating pace after the goal, with accurate and assured passing giving the Burnley midfield motion sickness. As has often been the case recently with Chelsea however, a final pass and goal seemed elusive. Heaton had a busy day in Burnley’s goal, and at times was excellent – the ‘keeper made a very smart stop from Costa’s point-blank shot after Oscar had excellently dragged a pass back across goal.
Chelsea were in no mood to surrender this lead, though, and in the 41st minute a clever flick from Hazard allowed Costa to pass across to Willian, who then created a yard of space for himself before firing low and powerful across Heaton and into the net. It was a deserved second goal but it in truth it could have been the third or fourth of the day for Chelsea.
Over the ninety minutes one player in particular looked more in control of the game than anyone, and his tenacity and composure was what allowed Chelsea to launch wave after wave of attack.
N’Golo Kante is looking more and more like a perfect fit in Chelsea’s midfield, and his superb play was exemplified by the way he controlled a ball falling from the sky whilst under pressure from a Burnley player. Time after time he won the ball in midfield and played it forward simply and directly. Chelsea fans will be delighted to have a player who brings such balance to the team.
Burnley did create an opening just before half time, but Arfield skewed his shot wide from a tricky angle. It was the only meaningful attack they had all game, with a flurry of corners in quick-succession later on being their only other noteworthy contribution. Hazard came close to scoring an outstanding second ten minutes after half time, but his volley was parried away by Heaton; John Terry could and should have poked in the rebound.
With Willian and Hazard taking centre-stage, it would be easy to overlook the contribution that Oscar made throughout the game. The Brazilian has been looking much more comfortable in a deeper role under Conte, and he continued to do so today. He both attacked and defended well and it was an act of subtle bravery that lead to Chelsea’s third goal.
Oscar won the ball for Chelsea in their own half and released the substitute Pedro down the left wing; in doing so though he was clattered by the incoming Tarkowski, who had also just come on. With referee Mark Clattenburg so often seen as a villain by Blues fans it seems only fair to give him credit for allowing play to continue and for booking the Burnley player afterwards. This challenge though was a far-cry from the horror-tackle in the same fixture two seasons ago that almost had Nemanja Matic leave Stamford Bridge in a body-bag.
After being released by Oscar’s pass a couple minutes from time, Pedro raced down the wing and played an inch-perfect ball across the goal to the lunging Moses, who smacked the ball in for Chelsea’s third.
It was a superb performance from the Blue’s, who’s energetic play worked in tandem with the brilliantly vocal support. By the end of the game the Chelsea fans could be heard singing “We’re top of the league” and “Chelsea are back” – and although it’s far too early to know if Chelsea are really back to their best – it was a dominant and dynamic display and perhaps the first game where fans got a real glimpse of ‘Conte’s’ Chelsea.
Contribution from Joe Campbell