The Premier League returned to life in typically explosive fashion this weekend as the nets were bulging up and down the country. It wasn’t just the so called big teams that were in free-scoring mood either, as the shackles seemed to have been thrown off by most of the managers and their players.
Leicester succumbed to Arsenal in a thrilling opening game, losing 4-3, while Liverpool felt the fury of Watford’s attack, with the Hornets netting a late goal in a 3-3 draw. The most surprising result of the weekend though was Chelsea’s 3-2 defeat at home to Burnley. Antonio Conte saw two goals from Sam Vokes and a Stephen Ward strike allow Sean Dyche’s men to take all three points from the encounter.
The game showcased everything that is good about Burnley, with their passing a feature in all three of their goals. Whereas most teams in the lower part of the league are more likely to launch the ball forward from the back, Burnley instead found a way to play out from defence, something that caught Chelsea cold three times.
For the Blues, it was the worst way to start their campaign. Conte will have been desperate to avoid doing ‘a Mourinho’ this season, but their opening game will have done nothing to quash the comparisons, while the comfortable victory of the former Chelsea manager now at Manchester United will not have helped either.
What went wrong for Chelsea though? It seems that their problems have stemmed from their transfer policy. First of all, the ostracising of Diego Costa, their top scorer from last season, has not helped. The fact he has not only been excluded, but still remains a part of the club will only be spreading negative vibes throughout the team.
Second, Chelsea have strengthened their team in parts, but the players they have purchased have ittle or no Premier League experience. While this does happen often, these new players are allowed to bed in over time with a more experienced player in front of them. However, for Alvaro Morata and Tiemoue Bakayoko when he returns to full fitness, they have been immediately thrown into the fire without much time to adjust.
Finally, one of their best players of last season was allowed to leave. Nemanja Matic formed a partnership with N’Golo Kante that provided an incredibly solid foundation on which Chelsea built their title win. When rumours began swirling regarding his potential exit it was puzzling, but then when his transfer to Manchester United was confirmed it completed one of the most ridiculously short-sighted moves in Premier League history.
Matic displayed for United in their 4-0 win over West Ham just how good a player he is as he was named man of the match in his first Premier League experience with the Reds. For Chelsea, they did not have enough control in the game and Cesc Fabregas has continually shown that he is not an ideal replacement for Matic beside Kante.
Of course, Gary Cahill’s early red card for a studs up challenge immediately put Chelsea on the back-foot, and it was an overriding reason as to why they lost. However, Burnley seemed to want the game more, arriving as an incredibly compact and organised unit with a gameplan that was made far more viable to impose following the red card.
Burnley were the better side
Ultimately, Dyche’s combative side were the better of the two and they deserved to take all three points. Whether Conte was beaten tactically remains to be seen as Chelsea played a man light for so long, while the Blues only got as close as they did because Burnley seemed to become nervous and retreated into their shell as the minutes ticked away. If they had carried on in the same style for 90 minutes, Chelsea may have been beaten by an even bigger scoreline.
Over the next few weeks of August then, Conte needs to be busy in the transfer market. Obviously, there are two areas which they must look to improve on. First, Chelsea need a centre-midfielder to add more experience to the middle following the loss of Matic, with Leicester’s Danny Drinkwater reportedly interesting the London side. With Costa’s exclusion showing no signs of ending, Conte needs another striker as Morata is not a sure fire 20+ goals a season forward, and injuries or a dip in form could prove catastrophic for the Blues.
Finally, Conte needs Eden Hazard back. The Belgian winger was missing from the game against Burnley and it was very noticeable. The absence of one of the Premier League’s most creative players will always be a large one, and it told on Saturday.
Conte faces a very tough task to boost Chelsea as they now face a trip to Wembley to face Tottenham. It is not the ideal follow up to their opening day defeat, but the Blues must prove that they are not going to embark upon a similarly disastrous campaign as Mourinho’s last just a few seasons ago.