Chelsea came in as heavy favourites against relegation-battling, goal-shy, but also defensively stout Burnley.
Head coach Thomas Tuchel went with a fluid front three of Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic flanking Kai Havertz, in an attempt to combat the deep block Burnley were sure to send out. And did they ever! Sean Dyche’s 4-4-2 had one or both central midfielders dropping into the back line, essentially forming a back-six and thwarting our initial offensive thrust. They left no space behind for deeper runs and our players who thrive off those were therefore sidelined.
Unfortunately for us, we were far from our best in the first half and could not maintain possession well under their cohesive and high press — they are surprisingly the fifth-most pressing team in the league, behind the likes of Brighton, Brentford, Southampton, and of course Manchester City. Except for the times Mason Mount dropped into midfield to pick up the ball, Jorginho and N’Golo Kanté were overrun, and we couldn’t progress the ball vertically.
Burnley’s strikers both attack and defend narrowly, so our efforts to work the ball out centrally through Kanté and Jorginho suffered, yet we were still trying force the issue. In the instance below, surely Saúl would be a better passing option (or a quick switch across the back) but instead Rüdiger tries to thread a ball through to Mount centrally, which results in a turnover.
That said, we should commend the effort and the idea at least of such the driven passes, as a common criticism of Chelsea has been our slow transition from defense to attack.
And another such drop-and-run from Mount created our best chance of the first half, although it didn’t count for much in xG, despite two bites at it from Saúl’s cross. Havertz would miss on an elaborate backheel attempt in the center, while Reece James would see his at the far post blocked by Charlie Taylor.
The rest of the first half was a humdrum affair, more notable for the defensive works of N’Golo Kanté and Thiago Silva against (supposedly) lowly Burnley.
But we were causing quite a bit of our own misfortune, with individual errors gifting chances to the opposition. Fortunately, we have one of the best free transfers of all time anchoring the back, with Silva adding yet another goal line clearance to his statistical record as well.
Although Tuchel claimed afterward that it involved nothing more than a gentle reminder of where the half spaces were and how we needed to exploit them and increase our intensity, his half-time talk was probably quite vituperative in reality, laying into his players for underperforming.
The change in tempo was good, but more importantly, our precision and decisions improved. Nothing like being lambasted by the boss to wake you up!
Chelsea have a relatively good scoring record immediately after the break, and that’s no coincidence.
Tuchel also made a slight tactical tweak — no, not Mount dropping into midfield, which he was already doing — but shifting Pulisic and Havertz to either of those aforementioned half spaces on the flanks rather than having them play through the congested middle.
Our second half bravado would begin right from the whistle and fittingly, it would begin with Reece James. His deployment as a wing-back in his first start for over two months was a right spark, as he combined with and played off of the wide striker (Pulisic usually), Mount through the middle, or even a now more adventurous Kanté.
But the breakthrough goal was all Reece James. After receiving a pass from Trevoh Chalobah, James would see no viable options for a cross with five defenders across the width of the six-yard box, so instead he fools them all with two shot fakes and an eventual shot hammered across the goal into the far side netting.
Chelsea then swiftly crushed any and every Burnley hope, scoring twice more in the next five minutes, both time through Kai Havertz.
On his first, Havertz does brilliantly to drift into space at the far post to get onto the end of a cross that again cuts out every Burnley defender in the way, this time through the air. After James is found by a perfect and creative Mount crossfield ball, he shifts the ball to Pulisic, who after cutting back onto his non-dominant left, leaves Havertz with nothing left to do but butter the bread.
Havertz’s second, which makes him the leading scorer of the Tuchel era, was again the result of quick transitions and switching.
This time it’s Pulisic who drops deep then carries the ball forward, all the way into the Burnley corner on the left when he is run adrift with options. So he cuts back and finds a cross-field ball to an advancing Kanté, who slides the ball into the path of James. With Burnley’s line in absolute disarray, James pings a low ball across the six, which is bundled home by Havertz’s trailing leg.
Our attacking threat hadn’t looked this good since the Juventus thrashing.
To ice the cake, we would score a fourth goal in most fortunate of fashions — Christian Pulisic getting onto the scoreboard again against Burnley thanks to some tired and defeated defending from James Tarkowski. His careless foot in presented the ball to Pulisic standing inside the six with nobody but Pope to beat. No divine intervention this time!
Christian Pulisic’s record against Burnley since joining Chelsea:— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) March 5, 2022
⚽️ 4 goals
️ 2 assists
Enjoyed himself today. pic.twitter.com/41M184jcCZ
With the game wrapped up, the substitutions were essentially aimed at player management. Mateo Kovačić and Ruben Loftus-Cheek came on for Reece James and N’Golo Kanté, which saw a strange period where Loftus-Cheek played right wingback. Timo Werner would eventually come on for Mount while Burnley would pick up a couple yellow cards (shocking!) once they really just started kicking lumps out of every Chelsea shirt.
So, three points, plenty of goals, a clean sheet, and a fantastic return of a most-outstanding Reece James. Exude positivity, for you attract what you exude!