Wednesday 26 July 2017

Conte left disappointed as Brady's cracker denies Chelsea victory

Burnley 1 Chelsea 1

Pedro celebrates after scoring. Photo: Reuters / Phil Noble
Pedro celebrates after scoring. Photo: Reuters / Phil Noble

Jim White

The Chelsea march has not been derailed. It may have been only a point gained at Turf Moor, but in many ways it was symbolic of the robust nature of Antonio Conte's pursuit of the title.

If they were not blown off course by the fizzing spirit of a Burnley side who have now acquired 29 of their 30 points at home, if they were not distracted by a corker of a free-kick dispatched by the home side's new boy, Robbie Brady, then they clearly mean business.

Burnley's George Boyd (right) and Chelsea's Cesc Fabregas battle for the ball. Photo credit: Nigel French/PA Wire
Burnley's George Boyd (right) and Chelsea's Cesc Fabregas battle for the ball. Photo credit: Nigel French/PA Wire

Far from the archetypical southern softies, in an arctic swirl they proved themselves a team prepared to roll up their sleeves and graft, even if it was for just a point.

Yet walking into the press room after this whole-hearted tussle, Conte looked oddly deflated. His team may have just extended their lead at the top of the table to 10 points but the manager clearly believed they should have been even further ahead.

"I am disappointed," he said. "It didn't happen. It's a pity."

It is a measure of the Italian's ambition that he should be so downbeat.

Chelsea's Diego Costa in action with Burnley's Michael Keane and Ashley Barnes. Photo: Reuters / Phil Noble
Chelsea's Diego Costa in action with Burnley's Michael Keane and Ashley Barnes. Photo: Reuters / Phil Noble

Others would have been delighted to have emerged undefeated from such a huge examination. For this was as evocative a challenge as the Chelsea manager can have faced since he arrived from Italy.

This sub-zero Sunday lunchtime in Burnley, with sleet falling on the mill chimneys beyond the Bob Lord Stand, made a wet Wednesday in Stoke look tropical by comparison.

It was not just the temperature that stood in the way of Chelsea progress.

Burnley are a team comfortable in their own surrounds, a team resolute in the defence of local pride.

Chelsea's Gary Cahill in action with Burnley's Sam Vokes. Photo: Reuters / Jason Cairnduff
Chelsea's Gary Cahill in action with Burnley's Sam Vokes. Photo: Reuters / Jason Cairnduff

How they tested the league leaders' resolve, rarely allowing them to settle in a game that fizzed with energy.

It was not that Chelsea had misplaced their fluency; it was that Burnley disrupted it with deliberate intent.

Mood

The visitors began in the kind of mood that suggested nothing would stop them.

After five minutes, Eden Hazard was lurking, waiting in midfield, ready to break at pace, seizing possession off a wayward Burnley pass. He glided through the home defence unchallenged and it took a fine save from Tom Heaton to deny the Belgian international.

It was an alarm not heeded. Two minutes later, a Burnley attack was broken up, the ball played forward at pace to Victor Moses.

Burnley's Joey Barton in action with Chelsea's Willian. Photo: Reuters / Phil Noble
Burnley's Joey Barton in action with Chelsea's Willian. Photo: Reuters / Phil Noble

Evading a despairing sliding tackle from Joey Barton, he strode on and played the ball inside to Pedro, arriving at full tilt on the edge of the area to score. Only seven minutes had elapsed.

It was the epitome of a Conte goal, turning defence into points at breathtaking speed.

Burnley, though, are not easily cowed. Even though they could not match Chelsea's speed-ball precision, they pushed and harried, fighting for every square inch of Turf Moor's restricted acreage.

A fine bit of build-up involving Barton immediately led to Ashley Barnes firing wide.

Burnley kept pressing, bursting into the tackle, chivvied by Barton's craft and industry.

By now he was running the midfield, which will have opened Conte's eyes - he dmitted before the game that he had never heard of Barton.

On 24 minutes, Barton was brought down by a clumsy Nemanja Matic foul about five yards outside the penalty area.

Despite Barton's ubiquity, he did not address the kick. Instead record signing Brady stood over the ball as the wall jostled and shoved, arguing about distance and position.

The Dubliner bypassed the row, arcing his shot perfectly into the far corner of the net.

Super bowl

The Chelsea goalkeeper had spent the previous weekend in Texas savouring the performance of Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. Now he was left a spectator by a namesake's excellence.

"There you go," said Dyche when told that it was the first time Chelsea had conceded from a direct free kick in four seasons. "Shows how much we do our homework."

Inspired by the goal, Burnley moved into the ascendancy. Andre Gray fizzed a cross through the Chelsea defensive line, but no one could get a touch. Then Barton's cunning ball played in Matt Lowton behind the Chelsea defence, but the full-back's shot was saved sharply by Courtois.

It was turning into a fine physical, energetic and committed encounter.

Chelsea, who have not lost here since August 1973, began the second half as if they really had not enjoyed half-time.

However, the champions-elect are driven by Conte's urgent determination and gradually they eased their way back into the game.

Soon they were back in control.Burnley were left to rely on the hopeful hoof, but how they kept trying and their efforts were greeted by a huge ovation at the final whistle. Daily Telegraph, London.

Telegraph.co.uk

Promoted articles

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport