Burnley nervous, overawed vs. Chelsea
It was always going to be difficult for Burnley, but manager Sean Dyche will be disappointed by his side's defending after they succumbed at home to Chelsea.
The pre-match coverage focused on Chelsea's incredible spending power compared to the comparative footballing paupers at Turf Moor -- this was a Burnley team that achieved promotion against all odds last season with virtually nothing spent on the squad.
The Clarets settled faster and deservedly took the lead thanks to a delightful strike from Scott Arfield. The Scotsman was discarded by Huddersfield Town a year ago -- what a moment for him.
But that goal sparked the Blues into life, and Burnley's backline couldn't cope with the unpredictable, rapid movement of Chelsea's rotating triumvirate of Oscar, Eden Hazard and Andre Schurrle behind the muscle, hustle and bustle of combative debutant striker Diego Costa.
The Clarets went from one up to two down in the space of 17 minutes, a period from which Dyche's team will have to learn plenty of lessons if they are to survive in the Premier League beyond this season.
Ben Mee had a particularly difficult night at left-back, with Costa and Schurrle's goals both created from his area, while he badly lost Branislav Ivanovic from a corner for the decisive third. Defending set-pieces was a rare soft spot for Burnley in the Championship last season, and they simply cannot afford to give those cheap goals away at this level.
There were a few bright points for the Clarets. Lukas Jutkiewicz gave John Terry a tough night and Matt Taylor, another debutant, performed well, too. Veteran defender Michael Duff also acquitted himself well against Costa.
However, the reality is that too many of Burnley's big players looked nervous and a touch overawed. That's understandable coming up against players of the quality of Cesc Fabregas, but it's an attitude they will have to shake off quickly if they are to thrive in the Premier League.
Fabregas was an absolute joy to watch, and his perfectly cushioned first-time pass for Schurrle's goal was a moment that will live long in the memory. He appears to have added a new dimension to Jose Mourinho's team and, on this evidence, the bookies are right to have installed Chelsea as the pre-season title favourites.
Dyche may need to rethink his team's shape against the league's major teams. Burnley's 4-4-1-1 worked a treat last season, but they were outnumbered in midfield and Fabregas had the run of the park, with Oscar and Hazard regularly popping up in pockets of space to hurt the Clarets, too. Perhaps Burnley could use a holding midfielder in front of the defence.
The aforementioned formation was successful last season partly due to the ferocious pressing of the strikers, but Danny Ings appeared strangely reluctant to close down his illustrious opponents and that set the tone as Burnley struggled to get close enough to hassle Chelsea's playmakers. Plus, on the rare occasions Burnley did get a foot on the ball, once Chelsea had taken control of the match, they gave possession away cheaply with alarming regularity.
In truth, it could have been much worse for Burnley. When Mee's backpass was horribly short of goalkeeper Tom Heaton and Costa tumbled over, many referees would have given a penalty and a red card. Instead, Michael Oliver booked Costa for simulation, and it doesn't bear thinking about how heavy the defeat could have got had the tight decision gone the other way.
The Premier League will be a steep learning curve for Burnley, but Dyche's side are unlikely to face many teams as inventive and devastating as Chelsea. Mourinho's men are the team to beat.