Antonio Conte’s Chelsea side made the worst possible start to their defense of the English Premier League title as they suffered a 3-2 reverse at the hands of underdogs Burnley — and in truth the result could have been much worse for a club that seems to be suffering an entirely unnecessary meltdown.
The first signs that a difficult day could be in the pipeline began when the team sheets were revealed and the champions — who have spent upwards of £100million ($130million) on new summer signings — named marquee purchase Alvaro Morata on the substitutes’ bench along with a list of inexperienced graduates from the club’s youth system. The latter has been indicated as a “message” from Conte who is understood to feel that he needs more backing from the club’s board with player recruitment. The Chelsea manager has since denied this, per the Guardian.
Feelings that a shock result may be possible grew when new club captain Gary Cahill was sent off after less than 15 minutes for a late and reckless tackle on the visitors’ Belgian international midfielder Steven Defour. Chelsea crumbled and, by the half-time break, were behind by three goals, with Burnley’s Sam Vokes contributing two and Stephen Ward lashing in another.
It may perhaps be somewhat galling for the visitors — who picked up just two wins on the road in all of season 2016/17 — that such an impressive performance at the home of the champions was overshadowed by Chelsea’s travails. Burnley, after all, were playing for the first time since the sale of their own defensive kingpin Michael Keane (whose performance helped new club Everton to a 1-0 win over Stoke), and just a day after star attacker Andre Gray completed a move to fellow strugglers Watford. Nonetheless, Sean Dyche’s men continue to grow in their second consecutive season of Premier League competition; their organization and talent will provide headaches for other title hopefuls.
Two second-half goals for the champions put a more sympathetic sheen on the scoreline. A belatedly unshackled Morata scored with one header and assisted a David Luiz goal with another, either side of a second red card for the home side when Cesc Fabregas was sent off on 81 minutes. Given Conte’s publicly-expressed misgivings about Chelsea FC’s squad depth, the coming suspensions for Cahill and Fabregas will not make next week’s trip to 2017 runners-up Tottenham any less of a headache for the Blues.
Chelsea FC aren’t about to fall away entirely. They will, in all likelihood, have reinforced further by the time transfer business is concluded at the end of the month. An opening day setback, even if followed by a reverse next week, won’t end their title hopes. Fellow challengers Liverpool dropped points with a draw at Watford, while on Friday night Arsenal squeezed over the line 4-3 against 2016 champions Leicester.
However, perhaps the clearest sign that 2017-18 holds more surprises in store came as relegation favourites Huddersfield (on their first top-tier appearance in 33 years) visited Crystal Palace. Heavily backed to lose, the Terriers came away with a 3-0 win and sit top of a nascent Premier League table.
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