Chelsea recorded their first victory under Thomas Tuchel with a hard-fought but dominant performance against Burnley at Stamford Bridge on Sunday lunchtime.
In what was our first Premier League game in daylight since November, a new dawn got its first three points courtesy of goals from unlikely sources.
Cesar Azpilicueta netted the opener just before half-time with a powerful strike lashed into the roof of the net before the returning Marcos Alonso made sure of the win six minutes from time in sensational fashion. While not always efficient in front of goal, Tuchel’s men defended intelligently and bravely, preventing Burnley from registering an effort at goal until late into stoppage time.
The team have not conceded a shot on target since the Bavarian stepped into the dugout earlier in the week and are now level on points with Tottenham, albeit having played a couple of games more, ahead of our trip to north London in four days’ time.
Tuchel made four changes from the midweek draw with Wolves, including handing a 50th Chelsea start to Mason Mount and a first appearance since September to Alonso. Timo Werner and Tammy Abraham also returned in attack.
The Blues lined up in a 3-4-3 system once again and Callum Hudson-Odoi, after an impressive performance in midweek, continued at right wing-back. The back three and goalkeeper were unchanged, as were Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic in central midfield, though N’Golo Kante was back on the bench having not featured since our first game of the month.
Burnley made two changes from a 3-2 win against Aston Villa in midweek as former Blue Jack Cork and Matej Vydra returned.
Clarets goal peppered early on
This game provided an opportunity for the club to pay tribute to our former centre-half John Mortimore, who played 279 games between 1956 and 1965. He died earlier in the week at the age of 86 and the Chelsea players wore black armbands in his honour.
Burnley’s visit is exactly the sort of test that requires committed defending and physical duels that a defender of the early 1960s era would relish. Their direct approach would require full focus and was part of the reason why Alonso was preferred to Ben Chilwell, as Tuchel revealed prior to kick-off.
However, despite showing the intent to attack in the early stages, it was the hosts who peppered Nick Pope’s goal with shots in the opening 20 minutes, albeit none of which unduly troubled the England goalkeeper.
Hudson-Odoi went closest with a deflected left-footed effort following a neat exchange between Kovacic and Jorginho to break the Burnley midfield line, while Mount also demonstrated excellent close control to fashion a sighter from the edge of the box but curled harmlessly over.
Creative Callum can't find a way
Chelsea’s 3-4-3 shape was opening up multiple attacking avenues, with the wing-backs pushing up high and wide allowing Mount and Werner to operate as inside forwards either side of Abraham as the focal point. Out of possession, it could quickly morph into a back five, with the central midfielders scurrying around to pick up those all-important second balls.
The Blues were able to create more clear-cut opportunities as the half wore on. Alonso escaped into space at the back post and looked destined to threaten the Clarets with a header back across towards the far corner from Jorginho’s clipped delivery, though the Spaniard’s accuracy was off.
Even though we were enjoying less of the ball compared to our record numbers against Wolves, chances came more freely but there was a missing clinical edge in front of goal. Mount blazed over and Werner miscued a shot of his own, much to Tuchel’s demonstrative frustration, before the breakthrough came courtesy of an unfamiliar goalscorer.
With the forward players misfiring, it was left to the skipper to step up and fire the home side in front just four minutes before the break. The goal owed much to Mount’s direct driving from halfway, the midfielder receiving a quick pass from Jorginho on the turnover and accelerating into space.
Mount in turn fed his fellow Academy graduate Hudson-Odoi and then, right on cue, Azpilicueta came flying forward on the overlap. Hudson-Odoi spotted his run and slotted him in, the defender doing the rest with a powerful strike lashed into the roof of the net.
It was the first time the 31-year-old had got himself on the scoresheet since two in four games at the start of 2019 and eased the tension of Tuchel’s second half-time team talk as Blues boss.
New half, same pattern
Yet there was still a change at the interval as Christian Pulisic entered the fray, taking the place of Abraham in a switch that saw Werner pushed to the top of the attacking line. The Blues restarted on the front foot and our American winger was involved straight away, latching on to a loose ball and skipping past a challenge from Ben Mee but just unable to pick out a blue shirt in the middle.
Hudson-Odoi, disciplined and dangerous down the right, then teed up a chance in the air for Werner but the German’s header was placed at a comfortable height for Pope to grasp.
The visitors’ custodian was a little more troubled moments later, however, when a quick attack from back to front saw Hudson-Odoi advance. Yet the 20-year-old’s effort deflected off Erik Pieters, smacked against the near post and bounced away to safety.
On the touchline, it was a battle of wits between English league football’s third longest-serving coach and the newest arrival, with Tuchel vocally getting instructions and details over to his new players. As the contest entered its final quarter, Sean Dyche’s men still hadn’t fashioned a shot at goal, although that owed much to Thiago Silva’s excellent anticipation after 68 minutes as he intercepted a dangerous ball into the box from Robbie Brady.
Down the other end, the ever-threatening Hudson-Odoi caught Brady unawares and slipped in behind him to fizz in a cross of his own. The effort deflected towards goal off Mee and was expertly pushed away by Pope.
Spanish double act
Hudson-Odoi might not have notched a goal or assist as he departed with 15 minutes remaining - Pulisic striking just wide from the wing-back’s final contribution - but his involvement in the final third had been significant.
His replacement, Reece James, almost made sure of the points with one of his first touches, a well-struck right-footed effort, but Pope was down low again to make a really good stop.
The game was put to bed in the 84th minute as Alonso justified his inclusion with a stunning goal. Advancing forward from the left, the Spaniard took Pulisic’s pass on his chest, then his knee, before firing an unstoppable volley into the far top corner. It was a goal fit enough to seal any win and ensured Chelsea Tuchel three points for the first time under the German’s reign.
This most relentless of seasons continues next week with two away games, at Tottenham on Thursday evening and then at Sheffield United on Sunday.
Chelsea (3-4-3) Mendy; Azpilicueta (c), Thiago Silva, Rudiger; Hudson-Odoi (James 73), Kovacic, Jorginho, Alonso; Mount (Havertz 80), Abraham (Pulisic h/t), Werner
Unused subs Kepa, Christensen, Zouma, Chilwell, Kante, Giroud
Scorers Azpilicueta 41; Alonso 84
Burnley (4-4-2) Pope; Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee (c), Pieters; Brady (Mumbongo 76), Westwood, Cork, McNeil; Wood (Gudmundsson 62), Vydra (Rodriguez 57)
Unused subs Peacock-Farrell, Bardsley, Long, Dunne, Benson, Stephens
Booked Westwood 60
Referee Graham Scott