If any Chelsea fans were getting carried away with their teams’ performances and prospects for this season, yesterday’s game will have been a short sharp shot of reality.
Sean Dyche and Burnley may have been surprised by the midfield pairing of Jorginho and N’Golo Kante at the centre of Chelsea’s lineup when the team sheets came in, a partnership often reserved for some of Thomas Tuchel’s toughest opponents and defensive selections.
Ross Barkley made his first start of the season and was bright in the first half of the game, often picking up the ball in tight areas and finding teammates in space. His pass to Callum Hudson-Odoi gave Chelsea their first real chance of the match, forcing a save from Nick Pope with a low shot.
Arguably the best of Chelsea came in the first half. Jorginho had a header saved by Pope, Barkley was unlucky with a hooked shot from outside of the box which narrowly passed the post, as was Andreas Christensen with a header. When Kai Havertz headed in front just before the break from a Reece James cross swung in from the right-hand side, it felt like a victory would surely follow for the Premier League leaders.
A belligerent Burnley were relentless in their ability to ride the storm at Stamford Bridge, with Callum Hudson-Odoi the only player to trouble Nick Pope to any degree in the second half despite their dominance and numerous attempts, few hit the target, out of 25 in the game, just four forced saves from the Burnley keeper.
Barkley’s last kick of the game looked to be a promising one, when he found the ball at his feet, in space and in the box, he skied it into the upper tier of the Shed End and was replaced by the energetic Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Barkley and Ben Chilwell’s disappointment was palpable. Six minutes later, Burnley had equalised through Matej Vydra, cutting through Chelsea’s defence far too easily.
What looked to be a uniform afternoon for Chelsea, was full of opportunity for those like Barkley, Hudson-Odoi and Loftus-Cheek who all have hopes of being called up for England, however narrow. We know that competition for places is fierce for the Qatar 2022 World Cup squad, but it is no tougher than Cobham.
The complacency of the team’s performance yesterday, was more akin to the Chelsea team that we saw at this stage last season, unable to kill off games, and struggling to keep the energy or intensity needed to consistently beat opposition teams. Chelsea missed the dynamistic and box to box mentality of Mateo Kovacic who has been so influential this season and the introductions of Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount came too late in the game to really impact proceedings.
Chelsea will go into the international break as league leaders, though with a now diminished lead, the two points dropped were a reminder that the race is on, and if Chelsea cannot continue to match the high standards that they have already set so far this season game upon game, there will be no guarantees that they will stay there for long.