Chelsea and Burnley face-off in their opening match of the 2017/2018 English Premier season on Saturday afternoon, with both sides looking to get their campaigns off to a flying start.
While Chelsea are the reigning champions, they start the season in tricky state of affairs, having just 14 senior players available to them for the match. Manager Antonio Conte currently resembles a man desperately seeking his partner’s Christmas present at the last minute – Chelsea fans will be hoping they won’t be landed with a wilted bouquet of petrol station flowers.
Burnley survived the drop last season after excelling in their home matches, while proving diabolical away from Turf Moor. The Clarets will come to Stamford Bridge desperate to start their season with a positive performance.
While the sides have only met six times in the Premier League, the teams have enjoyed some exciting contests. On August 18th 2014, the opening weekend of the league campaign, the two sides faced off in a fiercely contested battle at Turf Moor.
The newly promoted Clarets got off to a dream start, with Scott Arfield thundering a drive passed Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois from the edge of the area after 14 minutes. The Blues responded magnificently, with Diego Costa scoring a debut goal with a fine poachers effort just three minutes later.
Four minutes later, the Blues took the lead, Cesc Fàbregas at the heart of a stunning Chelsea attack which culminated in a sharp André Schürrle finish. José Mourinho’s side then scored a third, after Branislav Ivanovi? bundled home from close-range. Chelsea went on to boss the remainder of the match, pouring water over the initial party atmosphere at Turf Moor.
Burnley went on to endure a torrid season in the Premier League, succumbing to relegation after collecting a dismal 33 points throughout the duration of the campaign. Conversely, the Blues stormed to the Premier League title, finishing eight points clear of their nearest rivals Manchester City.
Chelsea had a pre-season campaign of mixed fortunes, opening with a fine performance in a 3-0 drubbing of Arsenal. In Beijing’s packed-out Bird’s Nest Stadium, the Blues put Arsène Wenger’s side to the sword with a clinical display. Striker Michy Batshuayi was particularly impressive, bagging a brace of goals.
An outclassing by Bayern Munich followed – the 3-2 scoreline flattering the Blues, who were comfortably beaten by the Bundesliga champions. A 2-1 loss to Inter Milan was no better, and Chelsea’s 1-1 Community Shield draw with Arsenal, which they lost on penalties, highlighted a worrying lack of cohesion in Conte’s side.
Burnley got their pre-season off to a flyer, with a number of confidence-boosting victories over lower league opposition, the pick of the bunch being a 2-1 victory away to Preston North End. New signing Jon Walters picked up three goals in five games, including a fine finish nine minutes into his non-competitive debut, in a 4-0 thrashing of Shamrock Rovers.
The Lancashire side then cranked things up a notch, with two tough matches against Celta Vigo and Hannover. The former match was an exciting 2-2 draw, with Burnley battling back to tie the game thanks to a Jeff Hendrick goal. The latter was called off mid-game due to crowd trouble, after Ben Mee had given his side the lead.
Conte will be without his talisman Eden Hazard, who is recovering from ankle surgery. The game also comes too soon for new signing Tiémoué Bakayoko, who is undergoing rehabilitation following a knee operation. The Blues will be missing wing-back Victor Moses, who is suspended after his FA Cup Final red card last May.
Burnley have almost a full squad to choose from, with the exception of midfielder Dean Marney, who is been out of action with a cruciate ligament injury since last January. Jack Cork, Jonathan Walters and Charlie Taylor will be vying for their Burnley Premier League debuts.
Potential Chelsea Starting Lineup: Courtois; Luiz; Cahill; Rüdiger. Azpilicueta; Fàbregas; Kanté; Alonso; Pedro; Morata; Willian.
Potential Burnley Starting Lineup: Heaton; Lowton; Mee; Tarkowski; Taylor; Guðmundsson; Hendrick; Cork; Defour; Brady; Vokes.
The opening day of the season is often an unusual affair, as a combination of first-day jitters and new teammates trying to find their rhythm produce cagey affairs. Chelsea will be the clear favourites, and they should have more than enough to see off Burnley.
The away side may fancy their chances of an upset, given the difficulties the Blues have faced in the build-up to the new season.
Scoreline Prediction: Chelsea 2-0 Burnley