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Chelsea's opening-day defeat to Burnley hinted at problems to come under Antonio Conte
Last Updated: 19/04/18 10:11pm
As Chelsea prepare to face Burnley live on Sky Sports at Turf Moor on Thursday, we recall how their opening day defeat to Sean Dyche's side at Stamford Bridge set the tone for their Premier League title defence.
The 3-2 loss - in which Chelsea conceded three first-half goals and had Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas sent off - saw Antonio Conte's side become only the second defending champions in Premier League history to lose their opening game of the campaign.
Nine months on, with Chelsea fifth in the table and 27 points behind champions Manchester City, here's how the issues evident on the opening day have undermined their campaign…
The season to a backdrop of tension between Conte and the board. Chelsea had allowed John Terry to leave and sold Nemanja Matic to Manchester United - with Conte describing the latter as a "great loss" in an interview with Sky Sports - while the previous season's top scorer Diego Costa was exiled from the squad.
Conte felt Chelsea had not offered him enough backing in the transfer market and he made his frustrations clear with his team selection against Burnley, naming Jeremie Boga in the starting line-up and fellow youngsters Fikayo Tomori, Charly Musonda, Kenedy and Kyle Scott among the substitutes.
Conte had already missed out on Romelu Lukaku, who had opted for Manchester United, and Chelsea would also prove unsuccessful in their efforts to sign Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from Arsenal, Alex Sandro from Juventus, and Fernando Llorente from Swansea.
Top targets did not arrive and those who did could not improve the squad. Alvaro Morata has been unable to fill the Costa void, scoring just 11 Premier League goals so far, while fellow summer signings Antonio Rudiger, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Davide Zappacosta and Danny Drinkwater have all struggled.
Olivier Giroud has impressed in patches since his January arrival from Arsenal, scoring a match-winning double in Chelsea's 3-2 win over Southampton at the weekend, but Chelsea's other mid-season signings, Ross Barkley and Emerson Palmieri, have played just 69 Premier League minutes between them.
Conte accused his players of "losing their heads" after the Burnley game, with Cahill - a pillar of the 2016/17 title win - seeing red for a reckless lunge on Steven Defour after 14 minutes and Fabregas receiving his second booking for a late foul on Jack Cork in the closing stages.
Conte pointed out that Chelsea had also been shown red cards in the FA Cup final defeat to Arsenal at the end of the previous season and in the Community Shield loss to the same team a week earlier, adding: "I have to study formations with 10 and nine players because when this happens so regularly, you must be worried."
Conte was right to be worried. Ill-discipline has become a recurring theme of Chelsea's season. The Blues only received two red cards last season - neither of which came in the Premier League - but they are already up to seven in the current campaign. It is more than any other Premier League side and it has contributed to the chaos surrounding their season.
Chelsea's back three of Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz and Cahill was fundamental to their success last season but the defeat to Burnley in August highlighted a new vulnerability, as they became the first defending champions in Premier League history to concede three or more goals on the opening day.
Cahill's sending off set the tone for his poor season, in which he has lost his place in the England squad, while David Luiz, who was named alongside Cahill in the 2016/17 PFA Team of the Year, also endured a torrid afternoon. The Brazil defender was at fault for Burnley's first and third goals, failing to pick up Sam Vokes from routine crosses.
It was the beginning of the end for Luiz under Conte. He kept his place in the side for the opening weeks of the season, but since being dropped for Andreas Christensen in Chelsea's 1-0 win over Manchester United in November, he has only made one Premier League start, with a knee injury adding to his difficulties.
Christensen has impressed for the most part, but with their new-look defence, Chelsea have already been breached as many times as they were in the whole of last season. The problems that were apparent against Burnley have continued throughout the campaign.
The Burnley game also hinted at Chelsea's issues at the top of the pitch. With Morata not yet up to speed and Costa frozen out, Michy Batshuayi was selected to start. The Belgian had struggled to convince Conte in the previous season and that theme continued at Stamford Bridge on the opening day.
Batshuayi was withdrawn on the hour-mark after an ineffectual display, and he would only start two further Premier League games before departing on loan to Borussia Dortmund midway through the campaign. His replacement against Burnley, Morata, marked his debut with a goal and went on to score six more in his next six appearances, but he has struggled for consistency since then.
The Spain international went over three months without a Premier League goal between December and April, with Chelsea forced to dip back into the transfer market for Giroud in January. The France striker provided vital goals at St Mary's Stadium on Saturday, but from the opening day to now, the feeling remains that Chelsea's attack is weaker without Costa.
Watch Burnley v Chelsea live on Sky Sports Premier League from 7.30pm on Thursday
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