PREMIER LEAGUE AUGUST 12, 2017: CHELSEA 2-3 BURNLEY
The Blues nearly produced a remarkable comeback having been reduced to 10 men early on and then gone three behind, but ultimately goals from Alvaro Morata and David Luiz proved in vain as we suffered a first opening-day defeat since 1998.
Gary Cahill was shown a straight red after 14 minutes and our task got harder and harder as Burnley struck three times before the break.
But the Blues rallied and showed great character to get back in the game. Midway through the second half, Morata headed a superb goal, just nine minutes into his league debut. With time almost up the striker deftly flicked a long pass into David Luiz’s path and the Brazilian crashed his volley home.
By then we had nine men after Cesc Fabregas was shown a second yellow card, but it was all Chelsea in the closing stages and a final late scramble in the Burnley box nearly produced a sensational equaliser.
It was not to be, though, and the Blues must now recover from a dramatic afternoon with a trip to Wembley to take on Tottenham next on the agenda.
The selection of Michy Batshuayi up front and Jeremie Boga supporting him wide on the left was the standout news from Antonio Conte’s first league selection of the season. For the 20-year-old Ivory Coast attacker, it marked a Chelsea debut, but unfortunately, it was not to last long.
Further back, there was a maiden league appearance in blue for Antonio Rudiger. That meant Cesar Azpilicueta shifted to right wing-back with Victor Moses suspended.
Pedro and Eden Hazard, both injured, brought the Premier League trophy on to the pitch before kick-off much to the delight of those inside Stamford Bridge revving up for another campaign.
Our visitors’ starting XI included Jack Cork, who had a loan spell at Turf Moor from Chelsea earlier in his career, but not another new signing, Jon Walters, named on the bench.
Inside three minutes, Marcos Alonso was booked for a late tackle, and from the resulting free-kick Ben Mee headed downward and straight at Thibaut Courtois.
The first moment of excitement from a Chelsea perspective arrived when Azpilicueta was found by Batshuayi in space and saw his delivery deflect agonisingly behind the onrushing Willian.
Then, on 14 minutes, proceedings swung in Burnley’s favour. Cahill, stretching after a heavy touch, missed the ball and caught Steven Defour high. There was no hesitation from the referee who sent our skipper off.
Conte reacted to the red card by introducing Andreas Christensen for Boga. The shape resembled a 3-5-1, with Rudiger going to the left of the back three and Christensen the right.
It was a touch off the man between them, David Luiz, that proved crucial for the opening goal. Sam Vokes’s volley flicked off David Luiz and bounced past Courtois’ despairing dive.
Willian was the man central to our efforts to equalise, trying to create an opening by driving at the Burnley backline. But his efforts proved in vain and it was the visitors who struck twice more before the break.
Both goals stemmed from wide free-kicks taken short. From the left, Stephen Ward exchanged passes with Cork and on the angle thumped a fine effort into the far top corner. And then from the right, a couple of minutes later, an unmarked Vokes headed Steven Defour’s cross in.
In the search for a response after the interval, Alonso tried his luck from range and nearly picked out the top corner. Only an outstanding save from Tom Heaton diverted the ball over.
On the hour, Alvaro Morata was introduced for his first league appearance and immediately fired over from range after some neat control.
Alonso then drew a second fine stop from Heaton in the half with a trademark, bending free-kick. From the corner that followed, the Spaniard had a volley blocked and Rudiger’s appeals for a penalty were waved away.
But this was better from the Blues and the goal that arrived on 68 minutes was thoroughly deserved. Willian brought an end to some more patient build-up play by whipping a cross over from the right. Morata’s movement was electric, reading the delivery ahead of the static defenders around him and judging his diving header to perfectly, glancing it past Heaton into the far corner.
It looked like we had another four minutes later when Christensen took Willian’s dinked pass into his path and slotted goalwards, but an offside Morata close to the goal-line got a touch that rendered it illegal.
Kante curled an effort wide before the Blues were reduced to nine men, Fabregas the man shown a second yellow for a challenge on Cork. The midfielder was incandescent at the decision.
Still, the Blues kept coming though and Morata on the turn had a deflected effort saved low to his left by Heaton.
Brady hit the post from a free-kick but Chelsea kept going into four minutes of additional time, and nearly got an unlikely reward when a deep delivery bounced around in the box before Alonso saw an effort hacked to safety.