Ben Mee's 81st minuted headed equalizer from a Burnley corner gave the visiting Clarets a massive 1-1 draw after Nemanja Matic had been sent off for Chelsea for reacting to an Ashley Barnes horror challenge. The main talking points from this contest will center around referee Martin Atkinson's failure to spot Mee's violent studs-raised challenge that would have seen the Burnley forward sent off and two first half Chelsea appeals for penalties that replays suggest were wrongly not given. You'll be able to read about those decisions at length elsewhere so I'll focus instead on some elements of Chelsea's performance independent of the referee.
Tired Chelsea pay for lethargy, lack of ruthlessness
Despite comfortably dominating before the Matic's sending off, Chelsea failed to make their superiority on the pitch reflect on the score sheet. They looked to be expending as little energy as possible to get the three points they were after, something Mourinho-coached sides are generally excellent at at points of season where fixtures are crowded and keeping something left in the energy reserves for future fixtures is important. However, they were made to pay for not more ruthlessly chasing a second that in all likelihood would have killed the game off. Mourinho's lack of squad rotation this season and the possibility that it may be leading to a fatiguing squad has been discussed by pundits and writers often in the second half of the season and their performance today certainly appeared to be one of a lethargic side. Chelsea started seven of the same players who started the difficult Champions League tie in Paris Tuesday. However, it was rustiness rather than fatigue that plagued Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa, Chelsea's two most disappointing performers on the day. Fabregas was starting his second cosecutive game after missing through injury and then illness while Costa also just returned this week after a suspension. Fabregas completed 80% of his passes, well below his season average of 87% and provided little in the final third. Costa showed his usual willingness to work off the ball but was poor on it. He completed just 71% off his passes (below a season average of 78%), just 1 of 3 attempted take ons and had just 2 shooting attempts (more on Costa below). Oscar was quiet and Juan Cuadrado's indifferent performances thus far have shown he'll need some time adjusting to a new side before he's a consistent contributor. The thought of having to rely on the individual brilliance of Hazard and a right back for an attacking threat will certainly make Mourinho uneasy. Burnley did not look particularly organized defensively or all that threatening going forward. They were there for the taking and this was a missed opportunity for Chelsea in what should have been one of the easier fixtures of the season. While they are still overwhelming favorites for the title there are hints of some wavering that could suggest it will be a tighter race than anticipated.
Costa's technical shortcomings show
Earlier this season Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger hailed the fighting spirit of his Chilean attacker Alexis Sanchez and Barcelona forward Luis Suarez and suggested that attitude came as a result of growing up playing street football in South America.
"There are similarities between Sanchez and Suarez. Sometimes Suarez will give the ball to the opponent but he gets it back straight away. Sanchez is the same," he said.
Diego Costa certainly fits in that same category. In fact, he relies more heavily on his relentless fighting spirit than either Sanchez or Suarez who are far more gifted technical footballers than the Brazilian-born Costa. His 17 league goals are proof enough he can finish and his movement off the ball is excellent- he works the channels relentlessly to provide outlet passes, gets into the right positions to score goals and allows Chelsea to defend from front to back with his fantastic defensive effort. However, he's a decidedly average player on the ball. He isn't particularly pacey or good at dribbling past opponents like Suarez and Sanchez or Manchester City's Sergio Aguero- all three average far more successful dribbles per game (Costa 1.3, Aguero 2,5, Sanchez 3.4, Suarez 1.5). He's not especially good at linking play forward and providing the final ball for teammates- Aguero, Sanchez and Suarez all have more assists (Costa 2, Suarez 8, Aguero 4, Sanchez 7).
This isn't to disparage Costa. The lack of a solid goal scoring striker was largely responsible for Chelsea's failure to win the league last season and without Costa it's doubtless they wouldn't enjoy the 5 point cushion they have at the top of the league. He was exactly what Mourinho needed. However he is a player that needs to be in the right system to be effective and needs the team to play well for him to play well. Suarez, Aguero and Sanchez have a way of taking a game over on their own with a moment of individual skill. Costa simply doesn't have that and his technical shortcomings have been apparent over the last two games.