Poor, poor Burnley. They’d been away from the top-flight of English soccer for five years, and their immediate reward for having made it back wound up being an opener against Chelsea, the favorites to win the Premier League. That’s brutal.
But in this space here I’ll try not to take one game or one play too seriously, other than to say the obligatory, “Wow, Cesc Fabregas, that first-half pass was so good it was actually offensive.”
Fabregas and the Blues fell behind the hosts after a gappy defensive sequence gave Scott Arfield enough space to laser one past Thibaut Courtois in the 14th minute, but as the ever-aware Martin Tyler mentioned on NBC’s broadcast, that seemed to only have angered last year’s third-place finishers.
Chelsea’s response was so, so cold. Three minutes after Arfield’s stunner — which was good for many reasons, not the least of which was to give Burnley supporters something at all to cheer about on a day that wasn’t particularly dark nor bright for the club — Fabregas back-heeled one that ultimately led to Diego Costa‘s first goal in blue.
Fabregas was unquestionably the best player of the weekend, playing a key role on all three Chelsea goals in the 3-1 win. He and Costa being at top form give Chelsea the kind of offensive spark they lacked in the title chase last season. They could counter-attack with the best of teams (sorry, Liverpool fans) but had a difficult time creating chances of their own from possession. Monday’s decisive win suggested the Londoners are a different, better team because of those additions and from having a second year under Jose Mourinho. Chelsea were certainly transitioning last season, as most teams were, but they were strong regardless and you just got the feeling that this year’s title could be theirs.
The sheer pace of their play inside the final third of the field Monday was staggering. Andre Schurrle benefited most from having Fabregas on the pitch, and he was magnificent. His speed on the edges was a great complement to the field-commanding ability that Chelsea’s midfielders presented. And that second goal, my word, was a thing of beauty and madness. Go find it somewhere, anywhere, if you haven’t yet.
But it is only one game, even if it seemed to prove what many suspected before the season. Mourinho’s Chelsea are improved, which is scary to the rest of the top of the league. There was some talk — as there is before every season — that as many as five teams have a shot to win the title. I think it’s much simpler — it’s Chelsea and Manchester City. They’re the obvious class of the table. Everyone else is catching up, needing to gradually get better, fight glaring weakness or make a transfer splash.
So one slate of fixtures is complete, and it was definitely a weekend of English soccer at its highest level. There were goals in every game, no game was decided by more than two goals and new players and old ones provided quality performances all over. Liverpool scratched out a win, and they’ll get better as they adjust to being without Luis Suarez. Leicester City were the only promoted team to snag a point, a 2-2 draw with Everton, who are sure to be disappointed with coughing up a late lead. Tottenham struggled and were fortunate to beat West Ham on an Eric Dier stoppage-timer. Arsenal grabbed three with a late winner, too.
But the simplest conclusion to draw from opening weekend, if you’re into that kind of thing, is that a light shade of blue and a darker one will be playing tug-of-war with the trophy, somewhere above the shoulders of everyone else.
Grant Burkhardt is a regional Emmy-award winning television producer and Ohio University graduate (barely) who’s fallen head over boots for world football. You can chat soccer with him on social media, because he loves it, on Twitter and Google+.