Occasionally, football is a sport bogged down by stats, trends and numbers, which often overshadow the bigger picture.
So anyone picking up their newspaper on Sunday morning would have noted Chelsea’s 3-2 win over Southampton with a shrug. They may even have surmised that this was a gallant effort from a side battling relegation, but ultimately the Blues’ class shone through.
Well, that’s not exactly how this one panned out….
The Saints went 2-0 up and were full value for it; Dusan Tadic and Jan Bednarek – only the third Polish player to score in the Premier League (pub quiz fans will have a field day thinking of the others) – getting the goals in a listless first hour from Chelsea.
The game changed in the 61st minute with the arrival of our powerful French stallion, Olivier Giroud. Just occasionally he runs with the poise of a horse bound for the knacker’s yard rather than a thoroughbred, but when he’s good he’s very good indeed.
And happily Giroud was very much in the mood on Saturday lunchtime. He came on and caused carnage in the Southampton defence, scoring twice and aiding Eden Hazard’s goal with his physicality in the home side’s penalty area.
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It was a 3-2 win that was hardly deserved, in all fairness, but the intensity and desire we showed in that final half-hour was a) a joy to behold and b) a stark reminder of what might have been this term.
“I was very angry from our first half," said Antonio Conte. “In the second half we showed great character, great determination and desire to win the game. We showed the right fire in our eyes.”
We’ll certainly need more of the same in a week that will be rather definitive of our campaign. We’ve got Burnley on Thursday night at Turf Moor – always a tricky fixture – before our Wembley date on Sunday against the Saints in the FA Cup semi-final.
Defeat to Burnley will all but end our hopes of finishing fourth….and leave us looking over our shoulders for the rest of the campaign. Failure is not an option….
Chelsea Team NewsGiven his comments about his side’s second half performance on the south coast, it would be fair to surmise that Davide Zappacosta and Alvaro Morata, subbed off after an hour, will be given the night off on Thursday.
Giroud surely has to start, and presumably Victor Moses will return at right wing back.
News has broken this afternoon of Marcos Alonso’s violent conduct charge after appearing to stand on a stricken Shane Long. The club can appeal the charge, but it is likely he will miss out against Burnley. Emerson Palmieri may deputise.
Will Conte be tempted to rest player ahead of the FA Cup semi-final? He can’t afford to really given that our slim hopes of finishing fourth hang in the balance, so otherwise expect a full strength Blues starting eleven.
Burley vs Chelsea Head to HeadChelsea have a decent record against Burnley since the Clarets re-established themselves as a Premier League outfit, losing just one of our last seven meetings with the Lancashire side.
As you may recall, that defeat came way back in August; the first game of the campaign, to be exact. At the time, we hoped the 2-3 reverse was a rare anomaly, rather than a sign of things to come. But then that’s the thing with time; it has a habit of making fools of us all….
The good news is that we have returned from our most recent trips to Turf Moor unscathed, with 3-1, 2-1 and 1-1 verdicts since 2010.
How the Match Will Be WonSean Dyche has done an unbelievable job in taking Burnley up to seventh in the Premier League table, and he deserves immense credit for making them so hard to beat.
It’s funny because the Clarets are like Chelsea last season: you know exactly the formation they will play, and which players will pull on the claret-and-blue if they are fit.
Dyche will field the classic 4-4-2 formation with old-school wingers in Aaron Lennon and Johann Berg Gudmundsson, two big lads up front in Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes, and a pair of midfielders in Jack Cork and Ashley Westwood who will sit deep and rarely break forward.
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The key to stopping the Clarets is to prevent them putting balls into the fox for Wood and Barnes to attack; that pairing can’t hurt you with pace, but they can in the air. So Emerson and Moses will need to track their wingers, and their may be a defensive requirement on the part of Hazard and Willian to follow Burnley’s full backs should they mount an assault.
The Clarets have scored just 14 goals at Turf Moor – the Premier League’s lowest home tally, and yet they have shipped just 13 too. So the onus will be on patience on Thursday evening, and if we can fashion an opportunity or two we must be able to take it.