After briefly falling from the top of the Premier League table to the lowly depths of third position, last week saw a re-awakening of sorts as we thundered our way back up to pole position with a convincing win over Champions League hopefuls (no, really) Birmingham City. While those Blues dare to dream, we haven’t even got time to blink let alone take a breather as the title race enters a frenetic period, and this week’s potential banana skin our those early-season conquerors of Manchester United, Brian Law’s Burnley.
I say Brian Law’s Burnley, but obviously it was Owen ‘Judas’ Coyle’s Burnley who turned Sir Alex Ferguson’s face a fetching shade of claret – a bit like the Lancashire side’s shirts – back in August with an unexpected but very well-received –this side of the Watford gap anyway – 1-0 win. Coyle recently departed Burnley to head for pastures new at Bolton, with Laws taking the helm at Turf Moor. Since his appointment, Burnley have played three, lost three, including a 3-0 defeat against – who else? – Manchester United.
Frankly however, cracks were emerging before Coyle upped and left, with just one win in the last thirteen games for the newly-promoted side. That victory was in the FA Cup, as they edged past MK Dons 2-1 at the beginning of January, but the last time they bagged three points in a league game was way back on October 31, as they dispatched Hull City 2-0 at home.
Sitting in 18th place in the league, it is Burnley’s home form which has kept them away from Portsmouth-like crisis levels. On their travels they are yet to win in twelve games, and they have lost eleven of those. But in the comfy confines of Turf Moor they have managed an admirable five wins from ten, and only one team has escaped from Burnley with all three points; Wigan winning 3-1 in October.
Burnley have been fairly busy in the January transfer window, snapping up striker Frederic Nimani, goalkeeper Nicky Weaver, and defender Leon Cort. They go into a squad which features top scorer – and one-time Real Madrid target – Steven Fletcher, the ever-dependable Graeme Alexander, the ex-Manchester United winger Chris Eagles, and the sometimes impenetrable Brian Jensen in goal. With only Steven Caldwell a doubt through injury, Laws has a virtually full-strength squad to pick from.
Chelsea will be bolstered by the premature returns of Salomon Kalou and Didier Drogba, who return from the African Cup of Nations ahead of schedule after the Ivory Coast – who were amongst the pre-tournament favourites to win the tournament – were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Algeria. Both players should be eligible for selection against Burnley, and with John Obi Mikel still out in Africa, it is only his presence along with Juliano Belletti, Michael Essien and José Bosingwa, who we are missing.
The fine win over Birmingham sets us up nicely for two away games in the space of four days, with Burnley on Saturday swiftly followed by Hull City on Tuesday. With Manchester United and Arsenal squaring off on Sunday, a win over Burnley would put all the pressure on those two sides.
It is the Clarets who have the upper hand historically though, with 36 wins to our 31 from 89 games in all competitions between the two sides. Interestingly – or not as the case may be – all of their 36 victories have been in league games.
While we won 3-0 earlier in the season in the Stamford Bridge, last season saw Burnley triumph on penalties in the League Cup after a 1-1 draw in SW6. The last time we played at Turf Moor was also the last time we lost at Turf Moor, going down 3-0 back in April 1983.
With the chance to extend our lead at the top of the table at stake, another free-flowing performance would be perfect. If we even play half as well as we have against Sunderland and Birmingham in particular, we could be four points clear by Saturday evening.