“So far so good.” That was the assured, if slightly subdued, verdict offered up by Man of the Match Cesc Fabregas, following a commanding debut performance from the midfielder as Chelsea registered a hugely satisfying 3-1 win against Burnley in Lancashire last night.
Over the course of what many saw as a precarious opening fixture for the Blues, this year’s title favourites cemented their status by taking top spot in the Premier League on Week 1, with three of their new signings already providing healthy returns on the hefty outlay authorised for garnering their signatures over the summer.
Two assists for Fabregas, an inaugural strike from spearhead Diego Costa and an auspicious outing made by 22-year-old Thibaut Courtois – the eerily-composed youngster charged with filling the gloves of one of this club’s greatest ever servants – each acted as a reminder, if any were needed, that this side will take some stopping either on or off the field between now and May at the very least.
We have been down this road before, of course, what with the Blues boasting the best opening-day record by any club in the Premier League era, but on this evidence it was hard not to side with Manager Jose Mourinho’s suggestion made earlier this week that this group could dominate for the next decade.
That is not to say the game was without hiccups, as Chelsea suffered an early setback that briefly threatened a repeat of the previous campaign’s stumbles at the hands of lowly opposition, not to mention that of Burnley’s last foray into the big-time when they deposed then-Champions Manchester United with a shock early-season victory in 2009.
But this was not to be the night’s narrative, as the unwavering guests hit back in emphatic fashion, not once but three times in just 17 minutes, all before Burnley boss Sean Dyche could break out the Jaffa cakes. And if the first goal served as warning, the second was an out-and-out declaration: ‘we are here and we are coming for the crown’.
Having cancelled out an early Scott Arfield effort within three minutes through £32 million man Costa after some carefully-constructed approach play, application of this new theory of expansion to accompany the enterprise went into overdrive. A breath-taking 25-pass move, featuring a cushioned half-volley from Fabregas, the assist of the season so far, culminated in a fine Andre Schϋrrle run and finish to complete the turnaround before Branislav Ivanovic effectively settled the contest just after the half-hour.
Manager Jose Mourinho spoke in the build-up to this encounter of the importance of time and space and his team created both in abundance at Turf Moor. The control exerted at times by the visitors was awe-inspiring, the skill on show perhaps signalling the initiation of a style hitherto unseen by the club’s supporters.
At the heart of it all was Fabregas, the Spaniard’s speed of thought and subtlety of touch constantly appearing beyond the aptitude of his hosts, as he forged and unfastened, probed and pillaged the Burnley backline at will with some devastatingly delightful contributions all over the pitch.
The ex-Arsenal man was everywhere. All hopes Gunners fans might have had that their former captain would be rusty from overly warming the Barcelona benches or would show hints of a drop in pace as a result of too much tiki-takaing of late were shrugged off as easily as claret and blue shirts yesterday, the 27-year-old very much hitting the ground running on his return to the division.
An assertive presence remained throughout the away side’s display, notwithstanding the well-worn bookends provided by a collective second-half easing up and the sloppy start which preceded it. That not only yielded the season’s first concession but also carried the potential to undermine our outstanding progress every time a set-piece was awarded in the opposition’s favour. To their credit, the Clarets produced a well-crafted goal and a spell of superiority that may have led to last season’s side wilting under the pressure.
However, as much as the home side hustled and harried, while often carrying a genuine goal threat, it was clear that they still need to strengthen in key areas if they are to be afforded another twelve months at the top level of English football.
On that basis, the reaction was about right from an encouraged yet almost stoic Mourinho in the post-match press conference. The Portuguese managed to smuggle in his opinion on the contact made by home goalkeeper Tom Heaton on Costa in the area with the game still poised and even broadened the debate to question referee Michael Oliver’s decision to caution the mountainous frontman, particularly while he is new to this country and only beginning to learn the values of this league.
Some things never change. Then again, not all things should.