Andre Schurrle's winner against Burnley is, so far, the most exquisite goal scored in the Premier League this season. It has almost everything you could ask for except a difficult finish, and that's more than forgivable considering the intricate team play that went into building that chance. But there's more to the goal than Schurrle's sliding finish, or Cesc Fabregas' volleyed flick, or Eden Hazard's clever run -- the passage of play ran through four distinct phases, each of them important. Let's dig in.
Phase 1: Transition
Players: Cahill, Ivanovic, Matic
Thibaut Courtois punts upfield, Burnley hack clear. The ball stays in play, floating down the pitch to the extreme Chelsea right, so Gary Cahill comes across to deal with it. This is the first touch of the attack, and it happens at 19:48.
It's difficult to know exactly what Cahill has in mind with his clearance. Under pressure from Lukas Jutkiewicz, he doesn't have time to control the ball, hitting it down the line with his first touch. It's probable that he meant for the ball to get to Branislav Ivanovic, who was still a long way upfield after the Courtois kick, but this is primarily a clearance rather than a pass. That's not to take away from Cahill -- properly directing your clearances is an extremely important skill for a defender, and it worked to perfection here.
Faced with the ball coming at him at pace, Ivanovic does well to flick into the centre, where there are a pair of blue shirts waiting. Nemanja Matic takes control, shooing Oscar up the pitch and running into the central third. Chelsea have now transitioned from a (very weak) Burnley attack to having possession in the middle third. The next phase must therefore be an attempted counter.
Phase 2: Attempted counterattack
Players: Matic, Costa, Hazard, Oscar
Matic has the ball in the centre circle. Seeing that Diego Costa is ahead of him and in a position to receive the ball, the Serbian threads a neat pass through Burnley's midfield to pick him out. Costa immediately knocks back to Oscar and moves to engage the defence; Oscar exchanges passes with Eden Hazard before giving up on the counterattack (which makes sense -- Burnley's showing down their left was a mostly non-threatening long ball and they hadn't committed bodies forward) and knocking the ball back to Matic.
Failing to find an avenue through which to counterattack, Chelsea switch into a slower passing regime: they need to establish control of the middle third and probe for weak links. Time for phase three.
Phase 3: Midfield control
Players: Matic, Azpilicueta, Fabregas, Oscar, Hazard, Cahill
There probably isn't much incentive to map out exactly what happens here. It's by far the longest phase of this play, and by its very nature will feature a lot of safe passes designed to move the ball while retaining possession rather than giving Burnley any immediate problems. But there are some general things we can learn from it regardless -- perhaps the most important being the Oscar-Matic-Fabregas midfield triangle.
Thus far, with Chelsea playing quickly, we hadn't seen Cesc Fabregas involved at all. Now is his time to get into the action. Although the Blues are in theory playing a 4-2-3-1, in reality we're looking at a hybrid system with Oscar joining the central midfield during buildup play, giving us a passing triangle which Burnley were loathe to disrupt for fear of opening up space for Hazard, Schurrle and Costa to attack. So the trio passes around, using Hazard, Cesar Azpilicueta and Cahill as occasional outlets.
Since Burnley aren't coming out of their shell, it's up to the midfielders (specifically Fabregas) to determine when the optimal time to change tempo is. His decision came when Schurrle and Hazard converged in the centre, ending a 13-pass, 31-second sequence in which Chelsea controlled the ball without looking to test Burnley. Now it was time to delivery the killer blow.
Phase 4: The big push
Players: Schurrle, Hazard, Ivanovic, Fabregas
Chesea have a number of weapons by which they can attack teams. Each member of the midfield trio is capable of picking out a Diego Costa run; Andre Schurrle can use his speed to exploit a hole on the flank; the fullbacks can make overlapping runs and cross. But none of those options is quite as good at sending defenders into panic as an Eden Hazard dribble. At full speed, it's impossible to defend him without losing one's shape, and that's how Chelsea chose to begin the real part of their attack.
Fabregas passed up to Schurrle in the centre. With Hazard already accelerating, the German lays the ball off, leaving Hazard in possession and accelerating into the final third. This is more or less the first time Chelsea have been in Burnley's defensive zone during this possession, and it throws the Clarets into chaos. Lukas Jutkiewicz and Mike Duff both lunge in and fail to make the challenge, and for a moment it looks as though Hazard might just go it alone.
But no. Instead, having sucked four defenders into him and leaving a fifth in the dust, he lays the ball off to Branislav Ivanovic, steaming up from the right wing.
At this point, both Schurrle and Fabregas are unmarked. The entire Burnley midfield has collapsed onto Hazard's run, and with an Ivanovic cross having led to a Diego Costa goal all of four minutes earlier, the back line is assuming that the right back will try something similar on this possession. He goes for a much better option instead.
Dinking the ball to Fabregas here is quite frankly the last thing I was expecting Ivanovic to try. He's hardly an elite passer (or crosser, for that matter), but Fabregas is in so much space that it can't hurt to give it a shot, so that's exactly what he does. Chelsea are of course used to their midfielders making these sorts of runs, and the obvious thing for Fabregas to do here is shoot.
He doesn't, because as the ball is coming to him he sees Andre Schurrle making a clever run behind the Burnley line. A half-volleyed pass finds the German in his stride, and Chelsea are 2-1 up.
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What can we take away from this? There are a few things. The first is a better understanding of Oscar's role in this attack. He isn't playing like a pure number ten and probably shouldn't be judged as one: he'll score goals and get assists, but his primary purpose for much of this game was to help Chelsea keep the ball until the forwards create space.
The second is the role of Hazard. Like Oscar, he's been accused of having an underwhelming match, which might be fair, but his run is what triggered the goal, completely destroying the structure of the Burnley defence and allowing the Ivanovic-Fabregas-Schurrle connection to bear such wonderful fruit. Hazard remains the team's most potent weapon, even when he's not involved in the final couple of passes.
And third is: that was really awesome. 25 passes, with everyone getting a touch bar Courtois and John Terry? I could watch this goal for weeks.