Saturday, 11 February 2017

Burnley v Chelsea Match Preview (12/02/17): Can Blues Survive Fortress Turf Moor?

As week’s go, the one that has just flown by was up there with the very best from Chelsea’s perspective. A point at Anfield followed by victory over Arsenal has – are we allowed to whisper it yet? – gotten one hand on the Premier League trophy for Antonio Conte and his men.

It wasn’t just the three points gained by the Blues against the Gunners; it was the domination of their performance and the complete and utter ease with which they brushed aside one of the great retenders to their crown.

Goals from Marcos Alonso, Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas, against his old club, sealed the deal, and while an Olivier Giroud consolation goal took some of the gloss off, even that wasn’t enough to remove the smile from Conte’s face in the post-match interviews.

So, we sit nine points clear with fourteen games to go. The door is ajar, but there’s still much work to be done.

And that work starts on Sunday with the trip to Burnley. The Clarets have been excellent at home this term (W9 D1 L3), which is in stark contrast to their away record (W0 D1 L10), and so the Blues must be on their guard.

But then both Arsenal and Manchester City have done the double over Burnley already this term, so can Chelsea join the club?

Chelsea Team News

It has been a feature of Chelsea’s season that they have remained largely injury-free all campaign, and that trend continues this week.

Antonio Conte admitted that Eden Hazard and David Luiz have been struggling with little knocks of late, although the Italian will be aware that this is a tough trip, no matter what Burnley’s league position or away form would suggest.

We don’t expect them to be rested, especially with the FA Cup next weekend meaning they could have a prolonged breather, and so the same side that dismantled Arsenal will surely be deployed in Lancashire.

Burnley v Chelsea Head to Head

It won’t come as any surprise to learn that Chelsea have had the better of their matches with Burnley in the past decade or so.

The Blues are unbeaten in five since 2009, with four wins (and eleven goals) plus a draw. Prior to that they had lost two on the bounce to the Clarets – in 2008 and 1983!

But this is a whole new Burnley side, perhaps the best they have been in two decades or more, and so Chelsea cannot look into the history books for any signs of dominance.

How the Match Will Be Won

So how do we assess Burnley, who since the start of December are W5 D0 L0 at home and W0 D0 L6 away! The key, perhaps, is in the detail: the five teams that the Clarets have beaten on home soil have all been bottom-half of the table fodder (Bournemouth, Middlesbrough, Southampton, Sunderland and Leicester). That’s not to diminish their achievements, but a simple fact that they can be described as ‘flat track bullies’.

How does their record against teams in the top six stack up at home? That’s W1 D0 L2, and so perhaps that puts to bed any assertion that the Clarets are somehow unbeatable at home. When tested by elite level opposition, they are vulnerable.

So what has been the secret to their success at Turf Moor? Firstly, they are happy enough NOT having the ball; a tactic which worked supremely well for Leicester in 2015/16, lest we forget. They will defend with a rigid four across the back and a tight four in midfield, with Andre Gray dropping in alongside them to help out.

When they spring forward, Burnley have a number of options on the counter attack. They can hit the ball long to the muscular Sam Vokes, pump balls into the channels for Gray to utilise his pace, or if Sean Dyche opts for Ashley Barnes then he has the guile to drop deep and link up the lines.

So this will be a slightly different kind of challenge to the one that the Blues are used to, but what is in their favour is that fluid 3-4-3 systems, like that they have adopted, tend to do well against flat formations where two banks of four are utilised. This will allow Hazard and Pedro to drift in-between the lines, while the back three will be able to go man-for-man against Burnley’s front two with David Luiz lying spare as an auxiliary sweeper.

The only concern would be in wide areas, where the Clarets could have an overload situation on Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses, but their full backs are not the kind to get forward and cause mayhem, so no worries there.

Both Arsenal and Manchester City have won at Turf Moor this season; and Chelsea could be set to join the club.

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