Burnley played host to Chelsea at Turf Moor in the 10th round of this season’s Premier League campaign on Saturday evening.
The Clarets entered the clash from the 11th place, with 12 points to their name from the previous nine rounds. It’s a decent standing for the club of their size, with all due respect, and though there is a lot to be played yet, they seem on course for another season in the top flight after this one.
Chelsea, on the other hand, have achieved a level perhaps not many expected given the loss of Eden Hazard over the summer, along with defenders David Luiz and Gary Cahill; not to mention a two-window transfer ban they’ve been imposed with. But the newly appointed manager Frank Lampard put his trust in young, talented players, and so far he has been fairly rewarded. They went to Burnley sitting fourth on 17 points, eight less than the league leaders Liverpool.
Burnley boss Sean Dyche was without midfielder Johann Berg Gudmunsson and striker Chris Wood due to injury, while midfielder Danny Drinkwater was not only injured but also ineligible to play as a Chelsea loanee.
Nick Pope was in goal. James Tarkowski and Ben Mee were the central part of defence, with Matthew Lowton and Erik Pieters on the flanks. Cork, Ashley Westwood, Dwight McNeil and Jeff Hendrick were spread in a flat four-man midfield, while Ashley Barnes paired up with Jay Rodriguez upfront.
Lampard had a few players unavailable as well. Defenders Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger were out. In midfield, there was no N’Golo Kante, Ross Barkley or Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
Kepa Arrizabalaga stood between the posts, with the duo of Kurt Zouma and Fikayo Tomori directly in front. Cezar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso covered the defensive flanks. Jorginho was in his usual holding role in midfield, while Mateo Kovacic and Mason Mount played slightly more advanced. In attack, striker Tammy Abraham was supported from wide by Willian and Christian Pulisic.
The First Half
Both teams tried to take the game into the opposition half early on, resulting in a fairly equal contest and the midfielders of both sides being the busiest players on the pitch for a while. They alternated frequently in attacking, with Burnley mostly looking for Barnes with long passes from the back which the striker would then redirect out wide for a cross, and Chelsea going wide and often switching sides when halted by Burnley’s numbers in front of the box. The first attempt of the game was Willian’s from just outside the box after four minutes, but it went far from the target.
With two central defenders already out due to injury, there was a sign of worry for Lampard as Zouma ended up in the commercial boards following a duel with Cork and had to receive treatment, but he returned to the pitch soon.
Burnley had a good spell between minutes 10 and 13 when they pushed Chelsea far back, but apart from a couple of successive corners, they had nothing to show for their effort. Chelsea hit back straight away as Pulisic carried the ball far through the middle and employed Mount inside the box, but the youngster was crowded out.
The game was unfolding in a manner that could have easily been expected. Chelsea were technically dominant and their moves more intricate, but experience and physicality played into Burnley’s hands. Barnes easily withstood challenges from Zouma and Tomori to bring long passes under control and engage his teammates, but any such pass that went towards Abraham was easy pray for the likes of Mee and Tarkowski.
However, the first mistake was extremely costly for the home side and it happened in the 21st minute. Lowton was caught in possession by Pulisic, and the former Borussia Dortmund winger charged forward, entered the box and managed to score by threading the ball low through a cluster of defenders.
Burnley’s response was a fierce one and they came very close to leveling the score three times in a row, but Barnes managed first to stumble and lose the ball inside the box, and then to miss a header from a yard or two with Kepa already beaten. It was followed by a deflected 20-yard volley from Pieters that Kepa somehow managed to save.
The home side was almost punished within a minute as Pulisic again broke into the box and got a shot off past Lowton from the same position whence he had scored, but it was Pope’s turn to produce a great save. On the half-hour mark, Barnes embarrassed himself again after Mee headed a free-kick back across the face of the goal and the striker failed to divert it in from the goal-line itself.
Burnley continued attacking and Barnes had yet another go, this time with a shot from 15 yards high over the bar. At the other end, Pulisic almost took advantage of Tarkowski’s poor clearance to score again, but the centre-back redeemed himself with a good block.
As the end of the half approached, Burnley’s spark seemed to have gone out and Chelsea advanced. They took control of possession and kept the ball in the opposition half for long spells, always winning it quickly and far away from Kepa. Abraham tried his luck from the edge of the box in the 39th minute but it went just wide of the far post.
Burnley’s midfield were making inexplicable mistakes at this point and often caused their defenders much trouble. Every ball they fought hard to win they would quickly give away with a thoroughly misplaced pass, and life was much easier for the visitors than it should have been.
One such mistake and an interception from Willian just before the break allowed Pulisic to run forward through the middle with plenty of options on either side, and as Burnley defenders waited to see which he would choose, he stepped into the box and took a shot. It caught a deflection off Mee’s attempted block and wrong-footed Pope.
The Second Half
Burnley came into the second half with an obvious intention of getting back into the game as soon as possible, but they seemed to have forgotten their confidence and composure in the dressing room. The ball spent a lot of time in Chelsea’s half, but there were no real threats for Kepa’s goal.
Barnes wasn’t even winning aerial duels anymore, and in the 50th minute he wasted another good opportunity as a nicely weighed lobbed pass found him in behind the defence, but all he managed to do was scuff his volley attempt. Jay Rodriguez was invisible for 50 minutes and then he found himself in some space inside the box, but his shot from a tight angle went straight into Kepa.
On the other hand, Chelsea seemed content with simply defending and waiting for counterattacking opportunities. Pulisic was eager to have another go at the Burnley defence, but that defence was at this point the only part of the home team that did its job at a high level.
And just as they had his runs checked, he surprised them by winning a header in their box from a cross by Mount, and placing the ball in the net to complete his hat-trick in the 56th minute.
Two minutes later, Willian took the spotlight. He received the ball wide on the right, charged at Pieters who backed off from him, and then the Brazilian slammed it low past Pope from around 10 yards.
The game was all but over at this point, but in the 62nd minute Burnley had another go. The high lead seemed to have gotten to the heads of the visitors for a while and they allowed Rodriguez to latch onto a pass in behind, and the striker was through, charging towards Kepa. But as he entered the box, Tomori caught up with him and dispossessed him with a very brave and accurate tackle from behind.
Westwood was the next to waste a good chance, right after Dyche had had enough of Barnes and replaced him with Matej Vydra. On the other hand, Lampard replaced Alonso with Reece James at the same time. A few minutes later Abraham made way for Olivier Giroud.
Burnley players were beaten, not only in regards to the scoreline, but in their spirit as well. They were utterly broken, and it seemed that minutes passed without them even touching the ball. Chelsea were completely in control, and Lampard gave the last 19 minutes to Callum Hudson-Odoi instead of Willian.
Four minutes later, Hudson-Odoi played a one-two with Mount and went down inside the box under pressure from Tarkowski and Lowton. Referee Michael Oliver initially gave a penalty, but he changed his decision on an intervention from VAR and booked the Chelsea winger for diving.
Nonetheless, the ball rarely left Chelsea’s possession in these late stages of the game, and when it did, the Clarets couldn’t find a way forward anymore. Vydra’s occasional efforts to keep the ball upfront should be commended, but there was a constant lack of support for the substitute striker and he simply couldn’t do a thing alone.
Dyche’s last move and the last change of the game was Hendrick making way for Robbie Brady in the 84th minute.
And just as it looked that there would be no more excitements, Rodriguez made things alive again in the 86th minute as he let one fly from 25 yards and hit the top corner.
Three minutes later, McNeil tried one himself and his shot got deflected off Tomori and left Kepa rooted to the spot.
But it was too little too late from the home team, and they were never going to complete a full comeback in the four minutes of stoppage time.
It was a strange game, and the result belies somewhat the things that were seen between the first and the final whistle overall. The game was largely balanced until Pulisic burst on fire, and even then the USA international needed all the luck he had to score his goals; the first and second, if not so much the third. As has been said already, Burnley’s resurgence came too late to overturn a four-goal deficit, but they will be left wondering just how different the final result would have been if Ashley Barnes had been a bit more focused. The chances the striker missed were absolutely clear-cut, and he will want to put this game behind him as quickly as possible.
Chelsea are now in third place and only five points behind the unbeaten Liverpool, if only for 24 hours. Burnley are now 12th, but they could go further down on Sunday with both Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester United set to overtake them if they win at Newcastle and Norwich, respectively.
BURNLEY: Pope 7, Mee 7, Tarkowski 7, Lowton 5.5, Pieters 6, Cork 6, Westwood 5, McNeil 7, Hendrick 6 (84′ Brady N/A) 6, Barnes 4 (63′ Vydra 6.5), Rodriguez 6.5.
CHELSEA: Kepa 8, Tomori 8, Zouma 7, Azpilicueta 7, Alonso 7 (63′ James 6), Jorginho 7.5, Kovacic 7.5, Mount 7.5, Willian 7.5 (72′ Hudson-Odoi 6), Pulisic 9, Abraham 6.5 (69 Giroud 6).
GOALS: Pulisic 21′, 45′, 56, Willian 58′, Rodriguez 86′, McNeil 89′.
YELLOW CARDS: Willian 53′, Hendrick 65′, Pieters 67′, Hudson-Odoi 77′, Brady 90′.
REFEREE: Michael Oliver.
DATE & VENUE: October 26, 2019, Turf Moor, Burnley.
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