The Blues went down to 10 men early on but they can’t lay the blame solely at the referee, they were awful as they start the season
Chelsea’s off-field problems bled onto the Stamford Bridge turf as Burnley stunned the Premier League by winning 3-2 at Stamford Bridge.
Only one other set of champions – Leicester City – had ever lost their opening game the season after lifting the title and Antonio Conte will point to a lack of options and signings in the transfer window as an excuse for the shock defeat.
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Gary Cahill went in high and with a straight leg on Steven Defour to earn a 14th-minute red card that, admittedly, had a huge influence over the match but the Chelsea of last season would have found a way to dig in and at least earn a draw.
They certainly wouldn’t have capitulated and shipped three goals before the first-half was out.
Conte looked quieter than usual as he watched the upset unfold before his eyes without having enough world-class operators on the bench to properly influence the proceedings.
Nine-man Chelsea upset by Burnley
The one super-sub he did have, Alvaro Morata, bagged a goal and assist to drag Chelsea back into the game, but he alone wasn’t enough to cancel out two strikes from Sam Vokes and a stunner from Stephen Ward.
The inspirational nature of the Spain striker’s debut in the worst of circumstances showed what he can do for his new side after his £68million move from Real Madrid.
I don’t think Conte would have brought Christensen on, if he had the squad for it. He could have done an attacker as RWB today. #CHEBUR #CFC
— Nizaar Kinsella (@NizaarKinsella) August 12, 2017
It was the perfect riposte to the critics who were so quick to judge him after 15 minutes and a penalty miss in last weekend’s Community Shield shootout loss to Arsenal.
However, there were other, more pressing issues on a torrid afternoon for the champions, who finished with nine men on the field following Cesc Fabregas’ late dismissal for a second booking.
As the goals flew into Thibaut Courtois’ net, Conte had the likes of Charly Musonda, Kyle Scott and Kenedy warming up. Jeremie Boga started but he was replaced after 18 minutes in the search for a stability that was never found.
Conte is a genius manager but he needs more quality to work with and Cahill’s red card was too great a task even for the canny Italian and his team of fighters.
Eden Hazard, Diego Costa, Nemanja Matic, Victor Moses and John Terry were just some of the title winners who were not around on an afternoon on which they were sorely missed.
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Some are injured, some have been sold and others are exiled in Brazil but the bottom line is that they were all conspicuous by their absence.
2 – Chelsea have been given two red cards in the same Premier League game for the first time since March 2014 (vs Aston Villa). Anger.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 12, 2017
It has been a tough summer and it showed on the opening day of the season. Conte needs talent, he needs experience and he needs numbers. It may cost £100m but the investment is essential. Saturday showed that.
That’s talent, experience and numbers are what Conte needs. He has got by without huge investment so far at Chelsea but he will be knocking on the door of the board to once again ask for more.
Chelsea still have talent but a few injuries and suspensions will kill their hopes of competing on two fronts this season.
Indeed, the champions’ next opponents are Tottenham and they must now travel to Wembley without two of their most experienced performers in Cahill and Fabregas. A bad start could be about to get worse.
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Conte will repeat his mantra that Chelsea need to “work, work, work” but a better antidote in modern football is to spend, spend, spend.