19:45 BST, Thursday 19th April, Turf Moor (Burnley, England) Sky Sports
Five consecutive victories have taken Burnley to the brink of snatching sixth position from Arsenal, a feat they can achieve, at last temporarily, with a win over Chelsea.
This would mean completing a league double over the Blues for the first time since the 1968-69 season which was also the last time that the Clarets managed to record 6 consecutive top-flight wins. Without a home win over any other team currently above them in the table, Burnley’s home ground is not the fortress it once was for the top teams.
Antonio Conte’s men will also look to gain ground on their rivals after Spurs dropped 5 points from a possible 6. With an FA Cup semi-final to prepare for this weekend, a tough fixture against a side only 8 points below them is hardly the sort of game the Italian will relish.
With Chelsea only recording two league wins over the last 4 months, they will also have to battle the demons of the road when they take on a team keen to prove their dark horse credentials.
Last Time Out
Burnley 2-1 Leicester City (Premier League)
The Clarets saw off the Foxes with a hard-earned win to make European football one step closer to reality. Burnley sprang from the start and pounced with two goals in the opening ten minutes to put themselves firmly in charge of the match.
Chris Wood showed quick reactions to open the scoring in the sixth minute and maintain his impressive scoring rate while Kevin Long finished the game off three minutes later. It was the defender’s first goal for the club and was a goal straight from the training ground.
However, it wasn’t all easy for the Clarets who had to weather a strong comeback by the Foxes. Nick Pope produced several important saves, notably a Riyad Mahrez header and a low Jamie Vardy shot either side of the interval.
Matt Lowton was also in inspirational form for the home side, both in his defensive duties and when going forward to relieve pressure on the defence. It was this performance which epitomises the spirit Sean Dyche has instilled in his team and the reason why they could grind out a win over a determined Leicester side.
Southampton 2-3 Chelsea (Premier League)
Chelsea showed a large dose of fighting spirit too, coming back from a grim-looking two-goal disadvantage to take all three points at St Mary’s. Southampton were the better team for the first hour and when Jan Bednarek struck a left-footed shot on the hour mark to double their lead, the Saints seemed destined to finish as victors.
This second goal prompted Conte into making a double change, bringing on both Pedro and Olivier Giroud to shake up his team’s ineffective attack. While Marcos Alonso could be considered lucky to have still been on the pitch after standing on Shane Long at the end of the first half, the left wing-back supplied a sumptuous cross for Giroud to convert soon after his introduction.
Eden Hazard and Giroud again fired in two more over the next 8 minutes to change the complexion of the game entirely. While being far from a pleasing display for Conte, Chelsea showed a strong mentality to not give in and it certainly helped that his side took a win from the game to stave off further criticism and speculation regarding the future.
Ben Mee (shin) and Georges-Kévin Nkoudou (knee) have failed to recover in time for this game and will join Steven Defour (knee) Scott Arfield (calf) Robbie Brady (knee) and Jonathan Walters (knee) who all have long-term injuries.
David Luiz (knee) and Ethan Ampadu (ankle) remain unavailable while Marcos Alonso is awaiting the verdict of a retrospective ban after a first half foul on Shane Long. Emerson Palmieri appears set to play in his place and Conte could also make several changes to keep his players fresh for this weekend, meaning starts for Olivier Giroud, Pedro and Tiemoue Bakayoko are all possible amongst others.
Key Battle: Matt Lowton (Burnley) vs Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
If Burnley are to beat Chelsea, they will need to be strong at both ends of the pitch. One player who can contribute tellingly to both is a 28-year-old right-back who provides pinpoint crosses from the right wing.
Forcing him to the peak of his defensive capabilities will be Chelsea’s greatest attacking threat. While Hazard likes to drive in-field with the ball, his starting position has recently been on the left side of Chelsea’s attack. With an ability to drift into spaces, Lowton will need to be mindful of Hazard’s movement.
A lack of defensive responsibilities for Hazard could be exploited with Lowton offering an overload on this side of the pitch, however, he will need to be careful not to put his team into a position susceptible to quick counter-attacks by the mercurial Belgian winger.
The collective vs star talent
Sean Dyche is taking most of the credit for Burnley’s rise, however, this could be more to do with the fact they don’t have a single star player for the media to focus on.
While it’s true that various players have shone during different matches for the Clarets this season, none of them can claim to have had an ultimately defining influence over the team.
It would be foolish to lavish all of Chelsea’s better play on Eden Hazard but he is capable of lifting the team at any given moment.
What Burnley regularly achieve is a high standard of performance across the whole team. As football is predominantly a team game, this should surely give them the advantage going into this match given Chelsea’s fractured displays in the league.
Building a war-chest
Chelsea’s uncapped summer spending sprees are now a thing of the past, with Roman Abramovich eager to balance the books more now than he did upon his arrival in the Premier League. With several successful loan moves this season, Chelsea could be about to cash in on their system.
Both Kenedy and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are firm fan-favourites at Newcastle and Crystal Palace respectively, the latter of which even pushing for a place in the World Cup squad for England this summer.
There is also Michy Batshuayi who has adapted well to his new challenge with Borussia Dortmund, scoring seven goals from his ten Bundesliga appearances. While Chelsea’s transfer policy last summer proved that money alone is not enough to guarantee a positive impact on the squad through recruitments, they could generate a sizeable amount of funds to give themselves plenty of space to manoeuvre.
Prediction: Burnley 2-1 Chelsea
Burnley are in fine form and will want to prove it’s no stroke of luck that they sit so high in the table. While Chelsea will not want to lose this match, they have failed to put in a solid performance over the whole 90 minutes for some time now and this could prove a perfect opportunity for Dyche’s men to exploit.