If we look at the Premier League home table at this point in time, we see some really interesting surprises. Liverpool and Manchester United are seventh and ninth respectively in this table, while forming the top four along with Chelsea, Tottenham, and Arsenal, are Burnley. The Clarets are third in the home table with 28 points, only bettered by Spurs with 32 and Chelsea with 33 points. In fact, if we narrow it down a bit, after Christmas, in the home table Chelsea is top and Burnley are second. It is these two top teams of this mini-league that go head to head this Sunday.
Burnley have been special at Turf Moor this season. A team that has conceded 35 goals overall this season, has conceded only 11 at home. Although it is a daunting ask, if the Clarets are able to beat Chelsea on Sunday, they will be breaking a few long-standing records and getting closer to breaking others. The fact that this time around they can hope to salvage points against a rampaging Chelsea speaks volumes about their home performance. Burnley have played four home matches since Christmas and won all four, conceding only one goal.
The team arriving at this fortress of Turf Moor on Sunday is Chelsea, boasting the best away record in the league as of now. And they arrive in form and style – having brushed aside fellow league challengers and Londoners Arsenal last week, with a solid nine-point lead ahead of the second placed Spurs. Although Chelsea can afford to drop a few points, Conte has been very clear this week that he does not consider the title race as decided and that his players need to treat Burnley with the respect they deserve. In any case, Chelsea would be disappointed if they drop points to the Clarets, something that has happened only once in last five Premier League games between these two sides.
- The Blues have kept the most clean sheets in the Premier League this season (13), four more than they managed in the entirety of the 2015-16 season. They are also 30 points better off after 24 matches this season (59), compared to 29 points in the first 24 matches last season.
- The Clarets have won their last five home Premier League games – they haven’t won six consecutively in the top-flight since November 1961 (eight in a row).
- Diego Costa’s first Premier League goal came against Burnley in August 2014 – since then, only Harry Kane and Sergio Aguero (both 60) have scored more Premier League goals than he has (47).
The fact that the recently promoted Burnley are among the top three teams in the home table is largely attributable to one person – Tom Heaton. Although the defence in front of him have also been good but Heaton has been quite outstanding. He puts in close to 5 saves every game, half of them from inside the penalty area. He keeps a clean sheet in every fourth game (6 in 22) for Burnley and recently has kept three clean sheets at Turf Moor. For Burnley to gain a point or three against the most rampaging attack in the league, they must defend very well but a truly heroic performance from Heaton will be required.
As teams like Liverpool, Leicester and Southampton have found this season, Sean Dyche’s team are going to defend deep and then prepare to strike on the counter. When they defend deep, their opponents will need a physical presence in the penalty area to cause the stingy-at-home Burnley defence some problems. Diego Costa has almost always been present this season, when an opportunity to score has presented itself. He will have to be as ruthless on Sunday to ensure that his team maintain the distance from the chasing pack in the title race. He has already scored 15 and assisted 5 thus far in the league but he will also be keen to at least get level with Romelu Lukaku, who is on 16 goals at the time of writing. Given these motivations, we can expect a fired up Costa trying a bit hard. However, Conte would hope that his striker maintains his new-found discipline and focuses on getting goals, instead of getting fouled or fouling someone.
Jeff Hendrick’s straight red card last week against Watford means that he is out for the next three games, while Steven Defour, Dean Marney and Kevin Long are also absent due to injuries. To replace Hendrick, Sean Dyche might turn to his new signings Ashley Westwood and Robbie Brady in a midfield role.
Antonio Conte has no such problems as all his players are fit. The only undecided point in his mind could be the developing rivalry between Willian and Pedro as both have made really good cases for inclusion in the first eleven. Willian, however, might get chosen at Turf Moor, as Conte will need someone with pace and a good cross, not Pedro’s through balls, which might fail against a deep set defence.
It would be very tempting to think that Chelsea’s run will end and that Conte will taste defeat from a bottom half team for the first time this season. However, the Blues are playing such majestic football that it will for sure be a challenge to keep them out, even for Burnley. In those front three, their midfield and their really good full backs, Chelsea possess enough quality to overcome the Clarets at Turf Moor, a task not oft repeated this season.
Burnley 0 – 2 Chelsea