Too early to panic, but Chelsea defeat to Burnley exposes weaknesses

Antonio Conte watches Chelsea/Burnley grease fire
Antonio Conte watches Chelsea/Burnley grease fire

The 3-2 loss to the Clarets wasn’t the end of the world, but failure to address the team’s flaws could doom the season…

Well, that was disappointing.

Chelsea was slow out of the gate for its title defense, and while the news is hardly all bad, there are reasons for … interested concern, aren’t there?

First, it’s way too early to panic. In truth, a good bit of what transpired at the Bridge today was to be expected.

  • Early season rust. You saw it everywhere, but consider the first two Claret goals. On the first, David Luiz, who is almost prescient in his ability to anticipate where the ball is going to arrive, got beat by a half-step to the spot. On the second, N’Golo Kante, the best player on the planet for my money (and certainly the best defender) got wrong-footed by a quarter step and the Burnley player takes advantage with an absolute screamer. I don’t expect thse sorts of small, albeit lethal, timing issues to persist.
  • Some new faces to work in, leading to predictable continuity and chemistry issues. Rudiger didn’t look commanding to me just yet, Bogo is obviously not where we hope we will be eventually, Morata still not deemed fit enough to start. You get the idea.
  • Missing players – Hazard is out until maybe mid-season, Pedro has an ankle ding, Moses absent through suspension, Bakayoko not yet back from injury, etc.
  • Add to all this the fact that Burnley is notoriously well-disciplined, and it never seemed likely to be anything better than a scrap.

Second, we’re still nowhere near to having a full roster in place. I hope, anyway. As it stands now we have 16 or so players – some young and untested – and we need 23? So there are more buys to come, and the window doesn’t close for a couple weeks, and it’s likely to come down to the final seconds of deadline day as sellers work to squeeze every last ha’penny out of the Blues front office.

Third – about the official. Let me phrase my comments a couple ways.

  • First, what I’d say if I had to worry about the FA suspending me: “We were obviously disappointed by some of the official’s decisions today. Clearly we disagreed with the Cahill sending off, for instance. But these things even out in time and we must work harder so we aren’t in a position to be negatively affected when calls don’t go our way.”
  • Now, what I’d say if I didn’t have to concern myself with the FA: “Damn shame we drew a match official today who was seeing his first game of football. I wish the league wouldn’t allow people to ref games when they have their year’s wages bet against us. If this type of rank corruption and incompetence persists we’ll be lucky not to finish halfway down the Championship table.”

The news isn’t all bad, though. The character driving that second half clawback was inspiring, and one might well expect the kind of rampaging…discontent?…we saw out of Sideshow to be an energizing force in the 2017-18 campaign. Willian was fucking everywhere. And after an uninspired pre-season, Morata’s finish for the first Blues goal (and the deft nod-on to set up Luiz for the second) were especially encouraging.

However, there is much work to be done, and a short time to do it. Much has been written about Chelsea’s ineffectiveness in the summer transfer window. Bakayoko is expected to shine and, as noted, Morata may be just the tonic. But we’re still shorthanded and we’ll be in four competitions this season. From where I sit we’re probably okay in the back, but we need a good bit more help in the midfield. Cover for Kante and Bakayoko is essential and as much as I appreciate The Magic Feet of Cesc Fabregas®, he can go AWOL at times (and today, the aforementioned disciplined Burnley defense marked him right out of his ugly Nike britches). Worse, bad things happen when he tries to defend. His sending off was one of the very few things the official managed to get right today. It all has me thinking we should go to Roma and tell them to name their price for Radja Nainggolan. Then give them an 18% tip on top of whatever they charge.

The situation out wide might be even more dire. The absence of Hazard is going to make life harder on everyone because he warps the defense. His presence on the pitched demands the defense shift his way, creating extra space for everyone in a blue strip. Still, Willian is looking great, Moses is still Moses and Pedro is coming off a special year, as well.

But. Their absence today highlighted just how thin Chelsea is. We need to remember that injuries happen, suspensions happen, and midweek jaunts to Champions League group stage ties in Siberia do nothing to keep players fresh. I’d love to see two more competent wingers brought in to address this shortage.

Finally, in a four-competition season, I’m nervous about having only two strikers. Just saying.

Here’s the capper: Chelsea’s attempts to round out the roster just got more difficult. We’ve been having fits getting other teams to cooperate in this window already, it seems. There is no goodwill for us in the world anywhere.

But say we’ve been in negotiations with a hypothetical club – let’s call them FC Wankenfurter – over a hypothetical young winger with pace and a knack for creating havoc with opposing fullbacks. Yesterday Wankenfurter’s asking price was, say, £50 million. But the Flying Wanks’ sporting director happened to catch the first half of today’s shitshow. On Monday, if said sporting director is at all like me, that asking price is going to be £60 million.

And I’m not even going to get into the question of how we keep Antonio Conte if he feels he wasn’t given the resources he needed to succeed this season. Anybody got Guus Hiddink’s number handy?

In other words, our ineffectiveness to date is likely going to make matters even less pleasant for the next couple of weeks. Thing is, the Blues have no choice. Failure to ante up is going to leave them in no position to contend with improved City and United sides at home, let alone a European campaign.

As I say, it’s too early to panic. It’s not to early, though, to acknowledge that we have some challenges ahead of us.

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