And we’re off! And we’ve stepped in dog poo. Gah! Chelsea’s season began with a shocking display by the team and the officials, resulting in a home loss against Burnley. A game that should, in theory, be a straightforward win, produced a 3-2 defeat and two red cards for the home side.
Here are the talking points from a bonkers game of football.
- Depth: We’ve talked about Chelsea’s small squad about 392 times before the season started and yet, we’ve somehow managed to further reduce it. The bench against Burnley featured a backup goalkeeper, four untested youngsters, Morata and even Kenedy, to make up the numbers. Things are about to get much worse before they get better.
- Officiating: We need to talk about the referee. Craig Pawson may be a decent human being who contributes to several charities, stops at every red light and reads a bedtime story each night to his kids. But in this match, he gave one of the worst performances ever seen at Stamford Bridge. In fact, Ovrebo should be looking nervously over his shoulder lest Pawson overtake him in the useless refs list. Pawson let off Burnley’s players for fouls similar to the one that got Cahill sent off and was horribly inconsistent with his decisions. That he had to be escorted off the pitch, surrounded by stewards, tell its own story.
- Lethargy: Despite Cahill’s red card in the 15th minute, Chelsea showed little ambition of their own and allowed Burnley to attack without really bothering to defend in the entire first half. Cahill’s exit also ended Boga’s debut early as he had to be withdrawn to make way for Christensen. With all due respect, against a side like Burnley and with the attacking players at our disposal, we should be the ones dictating the play and not chasing shadows. Batshuayi was particularly terrible, temporarily (I hope) acquiring the first touch of another Belgian striker and losing the ball almost every time he received it.
- Rejuvenation: The team showed a remarkable improvement in the second half despite conceding a third goal and then going down to nine men. As always, the gripe remains: why didn’t we start the first half the way we started the second half? The players showed tremendous spirit to fight back and score two goals. We even came within inches of getting the equaliser. If there were fears of repeating the ‘Mourinho season’, those fears were laid to rest in the second half. This team keeps on fighting right till the end.
- Fabregas Folly: The man with the magic hat has no one to blame but himself for getting sent off. His first yellow for sarcastically applauding the referee was perhaps a tad harsh, but Cesc has enough experience to know not wave a red flag at a raging bull. His second yellow was even worse; a needless tackle to hand the official an opportunity to brandish another red card.
- A New Hope: Alvaro Morata came off the bench in difficult circumstances and showed exactly why Conte was desperate to buy him. One goal, one assist and a disallowed goal is quite a return for a player who was not fit enough to start the game. Rudiger also had an impressive game and frequently carried the ball out from the back, although he was partially at fault for one of the goals. There’s room for improvement, but the initial signs are good.
- Keep Calm: After a disastrous first half, a palpable fear descended upon the terraces. It felt so much like 2015-16 that the only thing left was for Conte to publicly berate his physio and get embroiled in a lawsuit. But this is Antonio Conte, and this is not 2015-16. The players seem to be completely behind the manager and so do the supporters. Things don’t look too good right now, with Cahill and Fabregas unavailable for the trip to Wembley, so unless we push ahead with another midfield signing, it will be interesting to see what Conte conjures up against Spurs. It’s going to be a long August, but we’ll make it through.
Not the start we’d hoped for, but this result might push the board to finally get some players in. A lot depends on how we approach the market in the next few weeks, including the fate of Antonio Conte. It’s Spurs up next and it would be nice to win at Wembley, for a change.