In many ways, it is possible that come the end of May, if Manchester City do go and defend their title, this game will be looked at where Chelsea “dropped the cup”. However, it must be pointed out, it will be through little fault of their own.
Yes, the three very good chances Diego Costa had in the game could and should have been buried, but the two decisions that went against them could come back to haunt them. Referee Martin Atkinson was in no mood to listen to the badgering by the Chelsea players, and denied two (quite clear) penalty appeals.
Before all that began, however, Chelsea came into this match making four changes from the game against Paris Saint-Germain. Felipe Luis, Juan Cuadrado, Kurt Zouma and Oscar all came back into the team. Gary Cahill, Cesar Azpilicueta, Ramires and Willian making way for them. Burnley named the same starting eleven as they did for the trip to Manchester United, hoping to put in a strong performance here too.
A lethargic looking Chelsea at the start had to thank Eden Hazard for his enterprising runs up and down the pitch to provide some inspiration. All of his efforts ultimately led to a Chelsea goal, as he left the Burnley defence for dead in the penalty area and coolly slotted the ball for Branislav Ivanovic who duly converted his 4th goal in the last 6 matches.
That seemed to lift Chelsea and they began to attack more and keep more possession. However, the frustration of not being able to produce anything in the final third began to grow on them. The players were keen to bury the game in lieu of the Capital One Cup final next weekend and the crucial PSG reverse leg at home.
As it turned out, however, Burnley were proving to be a tough nut to crack. Not only were they solid defensively, but also attacked with good intentions whenever they got the ball. Sean Dyche’s brave move to play two attackers up front ultimately earned them a brave point away from home. Well, that and a couple of other factors. More on that later.
Before the match began, Mourinho had warned his Chelsea players not to take this match lightly. Teams like Burnley are inspired to produce a strong performance when they come to places like these, the aforementioned draw at The Etihad being a prime example. On the other hand, the Chelsea players could have looked at this fixture and ticked it off as ‘easy three points’, and who could blame them. Burnley had won just 2 matches and drawn 5 in their last 31 away matches before this.
While Chelsea and Burnley managed to create good chances at both ends in the first half, it wasn’t exactly end-to-end stuff. The home side clearly dominated the half but had a nervous energy about them – a feeling that one more goal could have soothed. That goal could have come via a penalty in the 31st minute when Mr. Atkinson denied Chelsea a clear-looking penalty. Michael Kightly seemed to have blocked the ball with his hand while turning away from the action, but the referee saw otherwise.
Another one of those goals could have come towards the end of the half when Jason Shackell seemed to have shoved Diego Costa in the penalty area, but the man who mattered did not see it that way. As is common knowledge nowadays, it takes quite an effort to rile the Stamford Bridge crowd up, but the ‘injustice’ of being denied two clear penalties seemed to do it.
In a similar vein, the second half also began with Chelsea attacking relentlessly and Burnley attacking, well, whenever they could. They came close a few times but could not beat Thibaut Courtois. Looking to bring some pace into the game, Mourinho introduced Willian but the complexion of the game was about to change in about ten minutes time.
At the time what looked like an overreaction from Nemanja Matic, he let loose on Ashey Barnes, shoving the Englishman in the process and duly being sent off. However, as replays showed, the tackle that incensed Matic could easily have resulted in Barnes being sent off for going over the ball and his studs meeting Matic’s tibia midway. As the case was, the referee did not even book Barnes and play went on.
The proverbial salt was rubbed into the proverbial wound when left-back Ben Mee headed in a goal with 10 minutes to go that seemed to deflate Chelsea and take some air out from their title balloon. The Clarets managed to see out the remaining time and managed a very impressive 1 point away from home.
It could be very easy for Chelsea to shift the blame on the referee for the 2 points lost, but credit where credit’s due to the visitors who did not give up and in fact got more attacking as the game went on. Of course the two penalty shouts could have changed the course, but Dyche’s men moved on from it and gave a tired looking Chelsea a lesson or two. Matic’s sending-off seemed to throw the Blues off course and Burnley managed to make the most of it.
More than anything, it will be the two points dropped that will bother Mourinho the most. That and Matic’s absence for the next three matches (including the cup final) could very well be the impetus that City have been looking for to get back in the race. The latter went on to romp home 5-0 against a hapless Newcastle United after the Chelsea game, seemingly inspired by the Londoners’ misfortunes.
All said and done, Chelsea will look back at the refereeing decisions, the sending off and the host of wasted chances as a ‘campaign’ against them but in all honesty, this was a game they should have buried and take a stronger foothold in the title race.