Chelsea secured their first home victory against Burnley since 2016 and it left Sean Dyche’s men with a tinge of disappointment. When one goal becomes two, it can knock the stuffing out of the smaller team and their resistance against the bigger clubs. Conceding a third straight after half-time was the final straw in a game where Burnley had given a good account of themselves.
It was a really progressive performance compared to the shambolic efforts against Aston Villa.
Jeff Hendrick played as a number-ten and gave Burnley an extra man in midfield. This incentivised the idea of playing the ball on the floor instead of hopefully hoofing the ball forward with every attack.
There was a brilliant bit of play in the first half where Burnley retained the ball for a good minute or so. It was a spell of carefully measured passing which ended with Aaron Lennon dribbling inside and getting his final ball wrong. This was against Chelsea -- a team of high-level players -- so to play the ball around in this manner was pleasing to see.
Struggle down the flanks
The extra man in midfield helped to combat Chelsea’s three players. The Blues were finding it tough to play through the middle and instead looked most threatening out wide. Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi enjoyed a lot of the ball and, given that all of the goals came from the flanks, the tactic worked a treat.
Dwight McNeil and Lennon probably needed to do more to snuff out these attacking threats but it’s the risk-reward ploy. Both players are particularly fast so they may have been eyeing up a counter-attack. In fact, both players had lively moments when going forward. McNeil in-particular is very effective in open-play but also on dead-balls.
Burnley’s set-piece threat remains tough tough to nullify. Ashley Westwood and McNeil are capable of some stunning deliveries. In Saturday’s match, McNeil found Ben Mee with a peach of a corner and Ross Barkley had to clear the centre-back’s header off the line. This is the strongest area of Burnley’s game and it will pick them up some valuable points.
Dyche has called for the players to play with freedom. As many pointed out, there is a certain irony in that given that the Burnley manager is so fixated on defensive shape. But these players are big boys now and should know that they can take a chance. Jose Mourinho asked for similar things when he was manager of Manchester United. Just because a coach is defensive-minded, it doesn’t mean players cannot take initiative on the pitch. Mourinho used to say that he wanted players with personality. Dyche wants the same and he has it at his disposal; a whole squad of it.
Playing out from the back is a double edged sword. Passing the ball on the floor can lead to turnovers and that would leave Burnley vulnerable. Playing aerial balls is safer because the other team can’t seize control and counter as quickly. But this team needs some bravery and it was good to see that at Stamford Bridge. It may have been in vein but hopefully it reminded one or two of the players that they can play short passes and they can play progressively.
Lacking the rub of the green
Searching for excuses can be frustrating after losses but there was reason to be slightly aggrieved in this game.
Hendrick had a goal ruled out for an earlier offside; VAR looked at it in more detail but the margins were still incredibly fine.
On second viewing, Willian looked to have dived to win the penalty. It was ridiculous for Matt Lowton to have even gone to ground in fairness but there was reason to not award the spot-kick.
The third goal relied on whether Tammy Abraham flicked Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross before Hudson-Odoi fired home. If he did then Hudson-Odoi would have been offside but the evidence remained inconclusive, even with VAR reflection. Three 50:50 decisions that went against Burnley; the only surprise was that Dyche didn’t make more of this in his post-match interviews.
All of these decisions weren’t incorrect; they were just up to opinion. It doesn’t mean Burnley were robbed, it just means they were unlucky.
Patience is a virtue
Burnley will not stay up based on matches like this. It’s a freebie. The game next week against Leicester City is too. And Manchester United. And Arsenal. The most important thing is that the attitude is there. Some teams can surprise the big teams with a tactical innovation but that isn’t Burnley. There have been times where the Clarets have bullied the top-six but this doesn’t seem to be translating this season.
There is a lot of heart that Burnley can take away from London. The only nagging concern is recurring individual mistakes. Nobody expects a team in the bottom-half to win at Chelsea so it’s just important not to lose by five or six. Burnley will not change very much about their play and if they lose, they lose. The gamble is that by keeping with what they know, they will have enough to beat the teams around them and avoid the drop.