Title favorites travel to relegation favorites to complete the first weekend of the Premier League season. After a summer spent strongly reinforcing their squad, Jose Mourinho is expected to deliver a championship in his second season back in charge at Chelsea, as he has done ay every one of his previous jobs. More than £70 million has been spent to improve a collection of players who finished third in the Premier League last campaign. Former Atletico Madrid duo Diego Costa and Filipe Luis, as well as former Barcelona and Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas are all three are expected to make their debuts at Turf Moor. They will be coming up against a Burnley side that surprised many by finishing second in the Football League Championship last season to earn promotion back to the top flight and which has been strengthened to the tune of just £2 million.
Yet, for Chelsea, the match provides an important early test. While they had a tremendous record against the rest of the Premier League’s top four last season, taking 16 points from a possible 18, it was against the lesser sides, who attempted to sit back and frustrate, where Chelsea came a cropper. Mourinho’s men were in prime position to take the title in the spring before defeats to Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and Sunderland undermined their challenge.
“When you have matches with space and time it’s much easier,” Mourinho said ahead of the Burnley match, reports Chelsea’s official website. “People talk about tactics and systems, 4-4-2, 4-5-1, but in a simple way to analyze football everything depends on space and time.
“In certain matches, when you don’t have space and time to play, you need more quality. We are working in that direction, to play against teams with low blocks and who are very compact, to play against teams with 10 players behind the ball. We need more quality in our game, we’ve been working on playing against a team who are defensive, trying to close every road to goal. We have to improve in terms of character but we need more quality.”
Both Costa, who scored 36 goals for Atletico last season, and the invention and dynamism of Fabregas should certainly aid Chelsea’s attempts to break down stubborn opposition. So, too, in certain scenarios, could Didier Drogba. The club legend, whose last kick for Chelsea was a winning penalty in the 2012 Champions League final, has returned to Stamford Bridge on a free transfer. And he could make his second debut, 10 years after his first, at Turf Moor, with Mourinho stating that he thinks the Ivorian will have recovered from an ankle injury sufficiently.
The most scrutinized selection decision for Mourinho, though, has been who will start in goal. After three years spent at Atletico Madrid in which he has established himself as one of the world’s best goalkeepers, Thibaut Courtois is now battling with Chelsea’s No.1 for the past 10 years, Petr Cech. Courtois is expected to get the nod.
Burnley’s major summer arrival, striker Lukas Jutkiewicz could be handed his debut after joining from Middlesbrough. And, while manager Sean Dyche will hope to benefit from the recruitment of Premier League experience via the likes of versatile duo Matthew Taylor and Steven Reid, he is under no illusions at the uphill battle his club faces to prosper in the Premier League.
“Chelsea signed Costa and someone told me the other day that, including the contract, the deal is roughly equivalent to our first year's turnover,” he said, according to The Guardian. “For one player. That's where we are. We have to run the whole club on that one player's fee, salary, roughly speaking, and that is the gap. There are gaps in all levels of football but the Premier League is probably the biggest one, unless you have the sugar daddies who constantly support the club financially.”
Prediction: As often happens, Burnley could surprise a few teams early on and carry with them the momentum from their impressive promotion campaign. However, while the Turf Moor crowd should create a rousing atmosphere, Chelsea’s quality will likely prove too much of a hurdle to overcome in their opening game. The arrival of Costa gives Chelsea the powerful, direct option up front that they sorely lacked against defensive-minded opposition last season.
Burnley 0-2 Chelsea
Kickoff time: 3 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBCSN
Live Stream Info: NBC Sports Live Extra