Football Features

Chelsea 2-2 Burnley: Five things learned as Blues blow unique chance to go third

By Ben Green

Published: 22:04, 22 April 2019

In the final match of the Easter weekend Chelsea failed to capitalise on the shortcomings of their top four competitors with 2-2 draw against Burnley.

Sean Dyche’s men took the lead after Jeff Hendrick clinically dispatched an unstoppable volley within the opening 10 minutes, but that lead lasted just six minutes as goals from N’Golo Kante and Gonzalo Higuain put the Blues in the ascendancy.

Many would have been expecting Chelsea to push on from there, but Burnley pegged back with a close-range Ashley Barnes goal – his 11th of the season – and the Lancashire club held firm in the second half to clinch a hard-fought point in the capital.

With that considered, what did we learn from a thrilling encounter at Stamford Bridge?

1. Hazard on course for Playmaker of the Season

Eden Hazard has put himself in pole position for this season’s Premier League Playmaker of the Season accolade after registering his 13th assist of the season, and what a piece of dazzling imagination it was to set up Kante.

The fleet-footed forward utilised his twinkle-toed feet to leave Matthew Lowton’s ankles in a world of trouble, escaping the right-back in almost dismissive fashion before angling the ball to his teammate.

And it wasn’t just the Belgian’s assist that garnered plenty of admiring glances this evening, as he was a consistent threat down the left. But that has been Hazard’s season, his wonderment and burgeoning reputation have both accelerated this term, which is why Real Madrid are so desperate to secure his services this summer.   

Whether that move comes to fruition is yet to be confirmed, but one thing that is certain: if Chelsea lose their mesmeric talisman, they face a near-impossible task of filling his void and finding an apt successor.

2. Barnes: the new Jamie Vardy

Jamie Vardy hit headlines across the 2017/18 season after his talismanic performances yielded goals against each of the top six, becoming the first ever player to score against all of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man City, Man Utd and Spurs in a single Premier League campaign.

Barnes has not quite managed to hit those lofty heights, but he has become the first and only player to score against each of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Spurs in the league this season – putting him on that giant-killer pedestal alongside the Leicester City marksman.

His finish this evening was a typical poacher’s goal, timing his run to absolute perfection before finding ample room at the back stick and firing a shot into the roof of the net, after strike partner Chris Wood picked him out with a fine header.

The duo worked well in tandem, and Barnes’ goal brought up his 11th in the league this season, the joint-most scored by a Burnley player in a single Premier League campaign, with Danny Ings achieving that feat in 2014/15.

3. Higuain vindicates starting berth ahead of Giroud…just

Chelsea have scored the second most goals of any English team this season across all competitions, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t had their lion’s share of problems in the final third, with their striker conundrum often proving a bone of contention among the Chelsea faithful.

Alvaro Morata failed to impress and was sent packing to Madrid, while his successor Higuain has scored in just two games since his arrival from Turin, prior to this evening that is.

However, one player who has impressed this season is Olivier Giroud, who currently leads the Europa League’s top goalscorer charts with 10 goals, but that hasn’t been enough to sway Maurizio Sarri, who has even deployed Eden Hazard through the middle ahead of the World Cup winner.

And once again, Sarri opted to rest the Frenchman due to him needing “to recover more than the other players because he is 90kg” after his exploits against Slavia Prague on Thursday – much to the seasoned striker’s frustration.

With that, his team selection caused some annoyance among Blues fans, but those apprehensions were immediately cooled after Higuain netted his fourth league goal with a trademark finish. His performance waned as the match went on, but a goal is a goal, and Higuain stepped up to end his five-match drought.

4. Burnley conform to stereotype

The Clarets’ main threat was always going to be from set pieces this evening, and they duly took advantage of their deadball expertise, capitalising on some wayward defending from Chelsea to become only the third team to score two or more goals against the club at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League this season.

In fact, Burnley have now scored more goals against the Blues in west London this term (two) than Man City, Liverpool and Spurs combined (one). Coupled with their 3-2 win last term and Stamford Bridge has proven a very happy hunting ground for the club.

Their two goals may have been rudimentary in approach, but certainly not rudimentary in execution as Hendrick’s scintillating volley was a moment of pure instinctive imagination, while Barnes also rifled a thumping close-ranged effort past a hapless Kepa Arrizabalaga.

Sean Dyche may very well have forged a reputation for his more aggressive and physically-imposing style of play, with his side scoring the third-most headed goals in the league, but that approach has paid dividends over the years – and it looks set to keep the club in the top-flight for another season.

5. Chelsea squander top four chance

With Arsenal losing 3-2 to Crystal Palace, Manchester United capitulating 4-0 to Everton, and Spurs failing to replicate their Champions League performances against Man City with 1-0 loss on Saturday, this evening presented Chelsea the perfect opportunity to climb up to third.

This season has been one of the most fiercely competitive top four races, and that intensity has now cranked up another notch this Easter weekend as all four clubs failed to clinch maximum reward in each of their respective matches.

In a very unique and bizarre turn of events, this has actually been the first gameweek in which Spurs, Man Utd, Arsenal and Chelsea have all played and all failed to win. Seriously does anyone want Champions League football next season?

Sarri has already conceded he will not prioritise between the Europa League and Premier League; well, on evidence of tonight, it appears as though the Italian has his heart set on continental dominance rather than domestic bragging rights.