A Blue Up North previews Chelsea’s home match against Burnley.
For a second home Premier League match running, Chelsea are playing on a Monday evening, this time hosting Burnley. Despite the tv companies almost completely free reign to play around with the scheduling, this match has increased further in it’s importance regarding the battle for top 4 positions. With the holy grail of Champions League football as a reward, the closing matches of this season’s have elevated that battle to almost boiling point.
With The Blues playing in the last tie of this weekend’s fixtures, they have witnessed all 3 of their rivals suffer defeats at this crucial time. It does mean Chelsea will move back up in to 3rd place with victory over The Clarets and will increase the onus on Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Manchester United in their midweek matches to keep pace.
That may be a wonderful incentive for Maurizio Sarri’s side to go out and put the team currently lying in 15th place to the sword, but, as already proved this weekend, even at the latter stages of the season and against teams only really playing for pride, the Premier League is far from plain sailing.
And Burnley can not be classed as pushovers. Under the guidance of Sean Dyche and driven by a very astute board, the Lancastrians are enjoying their most successful spell since the early 1970’s. An impressive run last season saw The Clarets finish 7th and qualify for European football.
However, they have spent most of this season flirting with relegation. A combination of hard work and determination has seen them improve recently and they have won their last 3 matches and pulled 8 points clear of the drop zone.
Striker Chris Wood has found some form, supported by the aggressive Ashley Barnes. England goalkeeper Tom Heaton and his defence have looked more solid, while youngsters Charlie Taylor and especially Dwight McNeil have shone in recent weeks.
Burnley will certainly be a tough nut to crack, while they will cause the Chelsea defence problems, especially from set pieces. Antonio Rudiger is still sidelined so Andreas Christensen will continue alongside David Luiz and will need to be extra vigilant against a rare front 2 line up.
Sarri will decide who to start in attack, but surely Olivier Giroud is far better suited to line up against such a physical defence. Eden Hazard is expected to have recovered from all the rough treatment he received from the Slavia Prague players on Thursday, while most will hope that Callum Hudson-Odoi will be given another league run out.
If you add Jorginho, N’Golo Kante and Ruben Loftus-Cheek in midfield and Emerson Palmieri and the ever present Cesar Azpilicueta at full backs, the manager has at his disposal pretty well a first choice starting XI.
So, on paper, it is appears to be a comfortably winnable match for The Blues, but The Clarets won at Stamford Bridge on their last visit, at the beginning of last season. They have only lost 4 out of their last 15 matches and could win 4 consecutively for the first time in a year. All the more proof that they will be a dangerous side if The Blues are not fully on their game.
The lure of moving back up to 3rd will be paramount for the Chelsea players, but this stage of the season is all about dealing with the added pressure of time running out. Just look at the other results this weekend for the other top 4 hopefuls. Choppy waters indeed.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue