A Blue Up North reviews Chelsea’s impressive win away at an inform Burnley side.
Thursday evening saw Chelsea travel to Lancashire for their Premier League away match at Burnley. With the home side closing in on an extremely unlikely, but very well deserved Europa League qualifying place and the match being less than 72 hours before The Blues line up for their FA Cup semi final, this was going to be a tough night for last season’s League Champions.
After an incredible come back to win 3-2 away at Southampton at the weekend and a Wembley showdown against the same opponents up next, Antonio Conte’s side were finally going into a match in a relatively upbeat mood. A grateful situation with the requirement of more involvement from more of the squad.
After the Italian’s first choice starting XI had slumped to a 2-0 deficit at relegation threatened Saints, with Marcos Alonso’s 3 match ban kicking into action and the short turnaround before heading to Wembley, this match was a great opportunity for Conte to shuffle his pack.
Any change would have been a gamble as Burnley have won their previous 5 matches and have performed so well this season, including an opening day defeat of The Blues. And with Conte making minimal changes to his side in recent matches, despite struggles to achieve the correct results, many were not expecting much variation to his line up.
However, Conte made the most of the opportunity by making 6 changes to his team but also made a significant tactical change. Antonio Rudiger returned in defence, with Andreas Christensen rested and Gary Cahill moving back to the central slot of the back 3. Emerson Palmieri was given his first Premier League start as he replaced the suspended Alonso on the left flank and Tiemoue Bakayoko returned to midfield instead of Cesc Fabregas.
But it was further forward that the changes were of more interest. Eden Hazard and Willian were both rested in place of Pedro and Olivier Giroud. The former slotted into an advanced central midfield position and the latter finally partnered Alvaro Morata in attack.
Early on in the season, Conte had talked about experimenting by evolving his title winning 3-4-3 formation into a 3-5-2, but has clearly been frustrated that his squad did not have the right combination of players to use this system more often. With the need to rest Hazard and Willian ahead of Sunday’s big match, this was an ideal chance to play with both of his strikers up front together.
Yes, they did not fully click together but both tried to link each other up and if Morata had scored when clean through early in the second half, praise would have been heaped on both strikers. A few more matches together should see their partnership improve, after all Morata appears to prefer playing in a front 2 and Giroud will find his partner more consistently with more matches together.
The Chelsea midfield were certainly more solid with the extra player. With Pedro buzzing around and regularly charging forward in an attempt to create more attacks. Bakayoko is far more effective in a central 3 while N’Golo Kante was his usual commanding self, breaking down Burnley counter attacks on a regular basis.
The overall effect was a stronger looking, more powerful Chelsea side. Burnley rarely threatened as The Blues defence restricted the home side to only 2 attempts on target all match. The Clarets equaliser came out of the blue and only beat Thibaut Courtois thanks to the deflection.
Gary Cahill epitomised the solid defensive display shown by the away side. His personal showing was composed and commanding, but he also led the defensive unit as all good captains should. Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes rarely had time on the ball as they struggled to find any space. Added to this, Cahill was also impressive on the ball. He was far more composed than his usual self and his long pass to Victor Moses for Chelsea’s opening goal would have made Cesc Fabregas purr with pride.
This was Chelsea’s first back to back Premier League wins for the first time since December and Antonio Conte’s side are beginning to show signs of being able to put a strong run of results together. A fantastic come back away at Southampton, followed by a commanding performance to outplay an in form Burnley side. Their only criticism would be their proliferation in front of goal, but The Blues still managed to win and could have won by a greater margin.
The Blues’s command on the match was epitomised by Eden Hazard’s 20 minute substitute cameo role. The Belgian was outstanding in possession as he pulled the whole Burnley side from one side of the pitch to the other. After some indifferent performances where he faded out of matches, he demanded the ball constantly and clearly enjoyed showing off his whole ball dribbling skill set.
With their Wembley showdown up next and 4 league matches left as they try to reclaim a Champions League slot, Antonio Conte’s squad are close to looking back to their best. A week ago, Chelsea were a full 10 points behind 4th placed Tottenham Hotspur, but a win away at Swansea next weekend will see that gap down to just 2 points as The Blues try to achieve the near impossible and overtake their North London rivals for the coveted 4th position.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue