For one half of football, it looked as if this might be a mirror image of the 2015-2016 season. The Blues couldn’t have played a worse first half of football, falling behind to Burnley 3-0 before getting up off the canvas and clawing two back in the second half to finish the match 3-2.
Red cards for Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas reduced Chelsea to nine men, but that didn’t stop the Blues from having a chance to equalise in the dying minutes.
Antonio Conte might not be happy with the lack of discipline shown by his senior players, but the spirit and fight shown by his side should be a positive sign, although Chelsea must avoid these self-inflicted wounds in the future.
The story of the match was almost encapsulated in the first few minutes of play when Marcos Alonso’s reckless challenge was punished with a yellow and Ben Mee headed straight at Thibault Courtois from the ensuing free kick.
Despite that start, Chelsea were actually commanding the match with possession early on and waiting for an opening in a very well organised Burnley side.
Chelsea had their first real chance at goal 11 minutes in when Cesar Azpilicueta’s low cross was deflected and nearly sat up for Willian to fire home in the centre of the goal.
Chelsea’s fate was practically sealed just minutes later when Gary Cahill’s challenge on Steven Defour was met with an immediately red card from referee Craig Pawson. Cahill challenged for the ball with one foot, but his studs were showing, prompting Pawson to dismiss the Chelsea captain.
The Blues never quite recovered from that incident in the second half. Andreas Christensen made his debut as a sub for debutant Jeremie Boga, and Burnley took advantage of an unfamiliar Chelsea back three.
Sam Vokes opened the scoring when he got his boot in front of David Luiz to divert Matt Lawton’s cross past the diving Courtois.
Stephen Ward compounded Chelsea’s misery just after the half-hour mark when he controlled a long pass and beat Antonio Rudiger to lash home from a tight angle on the left.
Vokes’ second goal came just before the half as he found himself unmarked in the centre of the goal and flashed a header beyond the despairing Courtois.
Antonio Conte must have had some words with his side at half-time because Chelsea emerged energised after the break.
Alonso forced the first real save from Tom Heaton to start the second half when his volley from the left forced the England goalkeeper to parry over for a corner.
Alvaro Morata made his Stamford Bridge debut for the ineffective Michy Batshuayi just before the hour mark, and it was his introduction that seemed to turn the tide in favour of the home side.
Morata’s first goal in the blue of Chelsea came on 68 minutes when he stooped to head home a brilliant cross from Willian and give the Stamford Bridge faithful a bit of hope.
Morata thought he had his second when he bundled the ball over the line from Christensen’s cross, only to see the linesman had flagged for offside.
Chelsea’s fate was sealed when Fabregas picked up a second yellow card for a late challenge on former Chelsea youth player Jack Cork, reducing the Blues to nine men.
Nevertheless, David Luiz pulled back a second for Chelsea when Morata flicked on a long pass from Azpilicueta, and the Brazilian was on hand to fire past Heaton for his second goal for Chelsea since rejoining the club last season.
Robbie Brady’s free kick hit the post on 89 minutes that would have sealed the three points for Burnley, but the visiting side weathered a late storm from Chelsea in stoppage time to earn a win against the reigning league champions.
Conte will have some thinking to do, along with the board, as both Cahill and Fabregas will be missing for next week’s match with Tottenham Hotspur. But the fight-back after being reduced to 10 men and eventually nine men does show that the players are fighting for the manager, and that’s a marked difference from that season of palpable discord.