Costa, Fabregas impress in away win
Chelsea got their Premier League campaign off to the perfect start with a 3-1 win at Burnley.
With Diego Costa getting on the score sheet and Cesc Fabregas dictating the midfield play, Jose Mourinho can feel that he might just have the pieces of the puzzle that were missing last season. Fixtures against the so-called lesser sides proved to be the Achilles' heel last time around, with points dropped when wins were necessary to sustain a successful title challenge. Defences remained unlocked as goals became hard to come by against dogged and unambitious opposition, but the addition of these two marquee signings look to have definitively addressed that area of concern.
After a slow opening 14 minutes in which Burnley took the lead, the Blues took the game by the scruff of the neck, and those chiefly responsible were Costa and Fabregas. With much expected from the 32 million pound striker, Costa took just 17 minutes to register his first goal, thumping unceremoniously into the back of the net from close range after the ball rebounded off the post.
More than just the finish, it was his all-around contribution that was particularly admirable. Although marketed as a bruising centre-forward, Costa linked up with Andre Schurrle, Eden Hazard and Oscar as if he had been part of the setup for years rather than a matter of weeks. Equally happy to back into his marker or drop deep to bring others into play, there is little in his game that is not suited to the Premier League, and he demonstrated that at Turf Moor.
Costa's constant harrying of Burnley's central defenders meant that they could not afford to switch off for even a second. On the one occasion that they did, the former Atletico Madrid man ran on to an errant back-pass and should have been rewarded with a penalty after being brought down in the area by Tom Heaton's left hand, but referee Michael Oliver employed guesswork and booked him for simulation instead. It was rough justice for an honest piece of play, though the incident highlighted his endeavour, a facet that will make him an instant darling among Chelsea fans.
As a former Arsenal player, Fabregas might have further to go to win the hearts and minds of Blues supporters, though more performances like this one in Lancashire will go a long way to acquiring their affection. Always looking for the ball whether in space or tight situations, the Spaniard kept the ball in motion, ticking the play over and probing gaps in the Burnley midfield. With the ball constantly on the move, it was hard for the opposition to maintain its shape, having been pulled into uncomfortable positions by Fabregas' smart footballing brain.
The cherry on the cake was his pass for the second goal, a deliciously weighted half-volley that gave Schurrle no option but to stick the ball in the net. It was the highlight of a tremendous individual display, but with that standard now set, Fabregas will be expected to showcase such genius on a regular basis.
From an attacking perspective, the first half was as slick and clinical as could be wished for in a season opener, and Schurrle was a key aspect of that. His movement was exemplary, as shown by the curved run for his goal, and his constant movement with or without the ball served to stretch Burnley's defence time and again. If one had to criticise anything in his display, it might be that he should possibly have scored a second goal in the first half only to dwell on the ball for a fraction of a second, allowing the defender to whip the ball off his toes as he prepared to shoot. But that would be unnecessarily churlish when judging an impressive performance from the German.
If there was expectation on Costa and Fabregas on their debut, then there was arguably even more on Thibaut Courtois, who got the nod ahead of Petr Cech from the manager. There was little the Belgian could do about Scott Arfield's beautifully taken goal, but he pulled out a fantastic fingertip save early in the second half to preserve Chelsea's two-goal advantage. His command of the penalty box was outstanding, catching anything slung into his sphere of influence and not afraid to go through his teammates to collect the ball, as Gary Cahill painfully discovered in the second period.
If there were any slight concerns from the team performance, they surprisingly appeared in defensive areas. Both halves started with less concentration among the back four than was ideal, and it allowed a committed Burnley side to build a little bit of momentum. There were a few sloppy passes from both John Terry and Gary Cahill while Cesar Azpilicueta looked far from comfortable during the 90 minutes. By and large, they got away with their errors, though against stronger opposition that would not be the case.
Those minor gripes aside, Chelsea's travelling contingent will be delighted with how the team began the new season, playing with verve, skill and intensity. There will be tougher tests ahead, but for now they are top of the league. Long may that continue.
Phil is one of ESPN's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilLythell.