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Aug 18, 2014

Three Points: Burnley vs. Chelsea

Diego Costa showed that he's the striker Chelsea have sorely been lacking.
Premier League debutant Diego Costa set Chelsea on the road to victory.

BURNLEY, England -- Three observations from Chelsea's 3-1 win at Turf Moor.

1. Chelsea's statement of intent

If Manchester City's win at Newcastle on Sunday was branded the result of champions, Chelsea's victory at Turf Moor amounted to a similarly impressive response, both to their rivals' victory and to trailing at what can be an intimidating ground to visit. This had the feel of an ominous statement of intent.

After falling behind, Chelsea scored three times in 17 minutes in an authoritative display of excellence. They struggled away from home against lesser opponents such as Aston Villa and Crystal Palace at the back end of last season but there was no repeat here. They won the first half and controlled the second.

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Chelsea seemed a side who have discovered another dimension since last season. It wasn't just the presence of a goal-scoring striker, Diego Costa, that gave them an extra attacking edge. Cesc Fabregas enjoyed a wonderful debut and was involved in all three goals. Andre Schurrle brought pace and penetration. The previous goal involving the German was Mario Gotze's World Cup winner at the Maracana. The next completed a turnaround at Turf Moor -- Schurrle scoring Chelsea's second.

His selection was proof that Jose Mourinho has not just reshaped his squad in the transfer market. Willian earned plenty of plaudits for his industry last season, but he was benched as Schurrle, a more regular scorer, started. The most eye-catching selection of all, though, came in goal with Thibaut Courtois preferred to Petr Cech.

If the Belgian's belated debut scarcely began well -- he conceded a goal before he had made a save -- a magnificent flying stop to deny Scott Arfield a second showed why he has displaced perhaps the best goalkeeper of the past decade in the Premier League. Fine-tuning may be required in a back four who afforded Burnley more chances than may have been expected, but Courtois' presence suggests last season's tightest defence could get even tighter.

2. Costa looks worth the cost

The last time Chelsea signed a striker who made his name at Atletico Madrid, it took him 732 minutes to open his account. Costa is no Fernando Torres, a point he was quick to illustrate 17 minutes into his Chelsea career, when he drilled in the rebound after Branislav Ivanovic's cross was deflected on to the post by Jason Shackell.

It may have been a regulation finish, but it is pertinent that Costa was in the position to score. While he scored four times in a productive preseason, a debut strike in competitive football rendered him the anti-Torres. Chelsea will hope the contrasts continue.

The 50 million-pound man has a meagre tally of 20 goals in 110 league games since leaving Liverpool while Costa managed 27 for Atletico last season alone. His first in his new colours also represented the opposite of his World Cup, when there was no early goal then and he looked a stranger in the Spain side. He seems to belong in this Chelsea side.

After scoring 27 goals in La Liga last season, Costa opened his account for Chelsea.

Costa cut a purposeful figure, giving the attack a physical force. In the tradition of Chelsea's greatest modern-day forward, the substitute Didier Drogba, he is a warrior who battles with defences and whose efforts may court controversy. For example, Costa was booked, perhaps unluckily, when referee Michael Oliver deemed he dived in an attempt to win a penalty.

Nevertheless, after Mourinho's many complaints that he didn't have a striker last season, he has got one now. It is the one he wanted, too, with the Chelsea manager saying the reason he didn't buy a centre-forward in January was because he hoped to get Costa in the summer. After one competitive game it is scarcely an exaggeration to say he looks worth the wait.

3. Burnley's reality check

For three heady minutes, Burnley could sense an action replay of one of the great days of their recent history. In 2009, for their first home game as a Premier League side, Manchester United arrived at Turf Moor and subsequently departed defeated by a magnificent, memorable strike from Robbie Blake.

Five years on, at the same end and from a similar angle, Arfield put them ahead with a shot that, if not hit with quite the same velocity, seemed almost as special. Once again the James Hargreaves Stand reverberated as the Burnley fans bounced.

Within seven minutes, though, they were behind. The "Ginger Mourinho," Sean Dyche, was unable to overcome the original, silver-haired variant. This was Burnley's unwanted reality check. The scale of their task was highlighted.

The numbers highlight the extent to which Burnley are the division's ultimate outsiders. They have spent 45 million pounds on transfers in their history; Chelsea spent 80 million this summer alone. Dyche paid only 450,000 in the market to construct the team that won promotion and Costa, Chelsea's 32 million-pound newcomer, was up against Michael Duff, who cost 30,000 pounds from Cheltenham Town a decade ago.

So Burnley are relying on the teamwork and fitness that served them so well last season. They started at a frantic pace, playing the high-energy 4-4-2 Dyche demands. Continuing to play with two strikers can be a risky policy for lesser sides, no matter how hard they press, but if they are found wanting, it won't be due to a lack of effort.

Another concern is that the next home game is against Man United on Aug. 30 -- the fixture list has done them few favours. With the momentum from promotion and a feel-good factor, they could have benefited from home games against their peers in the first weeks of the season.

Richard Jolly

Richard Jolly is a football writer for ESPN, The Guardian, The National, The Observer, the Straits Times and the Sunday Express.

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