The fanfare has been reserved up to now for the contenders up in Manchester, the focus fixed rather more on a mouth-watering duel between Pep Guardiola and José Mourinho to be played out over a city divide. Yet, quietly but impressively, Chelsea are a team revived under Antonio Conte.
The threat they pose in the title race this term should not be underestimated.
This was a third successive league win under the Italian, and the most impressive of the team’s displays under his stewardship to date, with Burnley dismantled from the outset and outclassed throughout. Chelsea were irrepressible, Eden Hazard tearing at will beyond the unfortunate Matthew Lowton and Willian providing some balance by exploiting Stephen Ward on the opposite side. The urgency was all local, the quality imposed from the off.
Burnley, far too passive for comfort, never stood a chance.
Conte, sporting a black armband in memory of those who lost their lives in the earthquake back in his homeland this week, never stopped bellowing instructions at any point, even when the game was clearly won. He kicked every ball, berated every mistake or pang of sloppiness, and celebrated manically each of his team’s rewards as if this was the game upon which the championship hinged.
It is easy to see why he is in need of a few days off next week. He may be able to relax easier knowing his team are retiring into the international break with their pristine record maintained.
This game was settled early with Hazard’s opening goal, so slickly taken, effectively serving to wreck the visitors’ game-plan in its infancy.
Where Sean Dyche’s side had sat back and defended so stoutly against Liverpool the previous week, their own lead having been established in the opening exchanges, here Burnley were gasping in arrears from the moment, 10 minutes in, the Belgian collected possession just inside his own half. As he sprinted forward at panicked defenders, Diego Costa and Willian dragged opponents out of position with clever, selfless runs. Ben Mee was too flustered to muster a challenge, with Hazard easily cutting inside at pace and curling a delicious shot into the far corner of Tom Heaton’s net.
It was a goal reminiscent of the forward at his best in the title-winning campaign, reward taken on the gallop with the confidence of a player utterly content with his role in the team. Last season feels like an aberration when he performs with this effervescence, and he clearly benefits from the industry of those around him.
N’Golo Kanté’s busy energy as Chelsea’s new midfield shield has given the creators a platform from which to perform – the France international has slipped seamlessly into this set-up – though Oscar was just as feverish with his tackling further up the pitch. Even Nemanja Matic, a player diminished over the last 18 months, looked more like his old self.
The hosts’ dominance was all too evident as Burnley laboured to contain them. Mee did well to scramble another Hazard shot from the goal-line, while Heaton saved smartly from John Terry’s header and instinctively from Diego Costa’s rather languid shot. That opportunity was born of Oscar’s quick feet near the by-line which had left Steven Defour grounded and helpless, yet the procession of opportunities was rarely checked while the visitors toiled in vain to clear their lines. Dyche cut an increasingly agitated figure on the touchline as he raged at the one-sidedness of it all.
Willian eventually made Burnley pay, teasing space from Ward before spitting away a shot through the full-back’s legs, across Heaton and into the net for his first goal of term. This team functions better with the Brazilian’s own blend of trickery and industry from the right flank. The excellent Heaton, again, did well to deny Hazard a second as he crunched a volley from outside the area. Terry should have buried the rebound only to sky over the bar on the stretch, though this was an occasion where profligacy was unlikely to be punished.
There would be a third to celebrate before the end, a sweeping counter-attack seeing the substitutes Pedro Rodríguez and Victor Moses combine with the Nigerian converting the Spaniard’s centre emphatically at the far post. It was a goal to add gloss to the occasion. Conte’s side will face greater tests once the campaign resumes but, on this evidence, they will be eager to confront them. This team feels menacing again.
News Source TheGuardianNews