BURNLEY, England — Three thoughts from Burnley and Chelsea’s 1-1 draw in the Premier League on Sunday.
1. Burnley find a way to halt Chelsea
An elite group has to admit a third member. Tottenham and Liverpool had been the only teams to take points off Chelsea since Antonio Conte’s September switch to a 3-4-2-1 formation, but Sunday’s draw means Burnley can be bracketed with those superpowers as one of the few to have frustrated the league leaders.
For the first time since they were held 2-2 by Swansea in the fourth game of the season, Chelsea failed to win against one of the Premier League’s supposed minnows. In itself, that is a sign of their relentless, remarkable consistency. By virtue of this draw, Burnley extended their extraordinary home record. They have taken 29 of their 30 total points at Turf Moor; only Chelsea and Spurs have won more on their own ground.
Sean Dyche’s team were imbued with belief, which was proved by their response after going behind to Pedro’s seventh-minute goal. Seventeen minutes later, Robbie Brady’s wonderful leveller cancelled that out, after which Burnley pursued a winner.
Nor did Chelsea settle for a draw, and their manager made three attacking changes, bringing on Cesc Fabregas, as well as Willian as a wing-back and Michy Batshuayi as a second striker. Each move was a sign Conte was looking for a 62nd victory in his last 74 league matches.
Overall, though, the draw was the fair result. It was also a fine one from the perspective of Chelsea, who were not at their best and struggled to get the final ball right but still showed the grit necessary to navigate a snowy day.
Conte’s side are 10 points ahead with 13 games to go, and this latest point increased the gap on second-place Tottenham and Arsenal, though Manchester City can cut the gap to eight with a victory at Bournemouth on Monday.
Thibaut Courtois illustrated why Chelsea need to keep him out of Real Madrid’s clutches, while Burnley could lament the moment, early in the second half, when David Luiz’s mistake gave Andre Gray a golden chance to put them ahead. Courtois, who had already made a fine save from Matt Lowton, produced a similarly good block.
The draw took Burnley up to 12th, but as they do not have another home league game until April, Burnley are in danger of slipping lower unless they can add to their measly tally of one point on their travels.
2. Pedro gets a rare goal on the road
It is hard to brand a player as a surprise scorer when he has just struck for the sixth time in eight games. Yet while Pedro has been terrific at Stamford Bridge, there was a real discrepancy between his output at home and away.
This was just a second goal on the road this season, following a strike in the 3-0 win at Leicester. It has scarcely mattered, partly because Diego Costa has specialised in scoring on his travels, but few players want the reputation for only performing at home.
Turf Moor may hold a place in the hearts of Chelsea’s Spain internationals. Costa scored on his Blues debut at this venue in 2014 on a night when Fabregas, who also making his bow for the club, registered his first Chelsea assist with a delightful pass for Andre Schurrle. This latest encounter began as a continuation of that game, as Pedro and Eden Hazard enjoyed themselves initially. Against Burnley’s 4-4-2, there were pockets of space for Chelsea’s inside forwards, and in the opening 15 minutes, they threatened to run riot.
Thereafter Burnley came into the game and Chelsea were more reliant on some of the solid citizens in their group. Gary Cahill, a Burnley loanee a dozen years ago, made a couple of defiant blocks. Cesar Azpilicueta was as effective as ever and even attempted an audacious shot from 35 yards.
3. Brady’s brilliance shows why Burnley bought him
It was not the most auspicious start for Burnley’s record buy. Just seven minutes into his full debut, Brady slid in his attempt to tackle Victor Moses. He missed the Chelsea wing-back altogether and, seconds later, Moses picked out Pedro and Burnley were trailing.
Fast forward 17 minutes and there was a clearer indication of why Burnley paid Norwich £13 million for Brady’s services. The Irishman is a set-piece specialist with a lovely left foot, and each was in evidence after Nemanja Matic fouled Joey Barton. The newcomer stepped up, whipped a free kick around the wall and into the top corner of Courtois’ net.
Brady scored against Conte’s Italy, as well as France, at Euro 2016, and this was further proof he has an aptitude for the big occasion. It also suggested he is the answer to what has been a problem position for Burnley: Six others have started on the left wing this season without any making the position his own.
Another player was making a first home start: £5 million Ashley Westwood was also signed on deadline day. Perhaps Burnley have been scarred by their last taste of Premier League football. They failed to add a central midfielder in January 2015, saw the quietly pivotal Dean Marney suffer a season-ending injury in February and spent the rest of the campaign with winger Scott Arfield valiantly attempting to deputise.
Alongside Joey Barton, Westwood looks the most natural replacement for Marney as the understated anchor man. He is neat and tidy in possession. Indeed, a misplaced pass was more notable than any he completed: After he gifted the ball to Hazard, Westwood chopped the Chelsea man down and collected a caution in a bid to prevent a counterattack.
Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.