August 28, 2016 by Levi Dominic
Antonio Conte, though, has come in and restored the pride in this Chelsea side, as well as the swaggering, cocksure confidence that comes with winning matches every week. Chelsea are starting to do that, and on Saturday they truly clicked, in superb fashion.
Conte has a reputation for moulding his teams quickly, for extracting absolute commitment out of every one of his players; already his ideas have taken hold in west London.
No longer are Chelsea leaden, ponderous and profligate; they have become breathtakingly quick on the break, superbly efficient in midfield and deadly in front of goal.
Eden Hazard, of all those to feature under Jose Mourinho in his toxic final season, has rescued his career from the doldrums. No longer is the Belgian unsure in the final third, apparently awaiting instruction from elsewhere. He is now back to his truly world-class best, scoring a quite sensational goal to open the scoring and remind supporters that he is perhaps the most likely Premier League player to match the superhuman abilities of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
His opener was a prime example. Collecting the ball in his own half Hazard crossed halfway, dropped a shoulder here, shimmied there, and found half a yard. Within a second he had fired, the ball barrelling past Tom Heaton and nestling in the bottom corner.
Conte must harness Hazard’s power throughout the season, he is undoubtedly the club’s best player and is nigh-on unstoppable when he plays as well as he did against the Clarets. He unleashed his full array of tricks, bewildering Matthew Lowton, Burnley’s right-back, every time he received the ball, continually cutting inside to either test Heaton or play in a team-mate. The former Aston Villa defender’s head must have been spinning come full-time.
Of course Chelsea will face bigger tests; matches against the two Manchester clubs will surely produce classic encounters, while Tottenham, Liverpool and Arsenal will all be out to halt their momentum.
But Chelsea will surely relish each challenge. Burnley were lambs to the slaughter, clearly drained after their somewhat heroic exertions in a shock 2-0 win over Liverpool last weekend. They could not pass the ball at all in the final third and were subsequently reduced to merely defending once they fell behind.
Chelsea were so much more precise, so much cleaner, as they launched wave after wave of attack to the delight of the home support.
The second came just before half-time, as Willian sent a fine low finish past Heaton after fine hold-up play from Diego Costa, who terrorised the visitors’ back-four. Substitute Victor Moses added a third late on, meeting Pedro’s cross on the slide to wrap up a truly impressive victory.
Conte, who celebrated Willian’s goal wildly, conducted the orchestra from the sidelines, never ceasing his gesticulating for the entire 90 minutes. He knows what he wants and he will not hesitate to tell a player if he thinks they are not giving enough.
Branislav Ivanovic, for example, was reprimanded in the first-half after failing to overlap Willian on the right flank; the pair’s conversation took place as the ball was in play but, such was Chelsea’s dominance, it ultimately mattered little.
Ivanovic is perhaps the weak link in this Blues side; he is beaten too easily too often and has an alarming lack of pace on the turn, but if defensive reinforcements are signed in the final days of the transfer window – and Conte has said that he is looking, with a number of targets reportedly on his shortlist – this Chelsea team will be a frightening prospect indeed.
Given last season’s absolute crisis, Chelsea needed to hit the ground running in 2016-17. Following nervy wins over both West Ham and Watford they appear to have found a formula that can carry them to a Premier League title challenge.
If they continue to play as they did on Saturday then few will bet against them going all the way again.