Alvaro Morata proves he's willing to adapt to Chelsea and other things learned as Burnley win 3-2

James Piercy 12/08/2017
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Chelsea made a dramatic start to their Premier League title defence after falling to a 3-2 defeat by Burnley at Stamford Bridge that featured red cards for Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas.

Here are three things learned from their opening day defeat.

CAHILL’S CARD CAN BE NO EXCUSE

Against the backdrop of Antonio Conte’s frustration at a lack of new arrivals and with the absence of key players Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Tiemoue Bakayoko, Gary Cahill’s 14th-minute dismissal was nothing short of a disaster.

Especially with Burnley’s physicality in the final third and at set-pieces and the Chelsea captain being his side’s best aerial presence in a defensive sense.

What came to pass in Cahill’s absence was chaotic, with Sam Vokes dragging Antonio Rudiger and David Luiz out of position and neither looking comfortable with the volume of high crossfield balls they were having to defend.

For Vokes’ second, Luiz left the Welsh striker and appeared to be more concerned with Rudiger. Unsurprisingly the Chelsea duo collided and Vokes had a free header.

However, the shambolic nature of what Chelsea descended into shouldn’t be solely squared at Cahill’s rash feet.

Yes, Rudiger was playing his first Premier League match with two brand new defensive partners but the German, Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta are all experienced internationals.

It’s not as if Burnley’s brand of football was particularly nuanced nor focused on dominating possession, for which red cards often affect.

Defensive positioning was key and while this mess revealed Cahill as the Blues’ primary defensive organiser-in-chief, the trio that finished the game cannot point the finger of blame at their errant leader.

There was a lack of concentration, communication and composure as Burnley, and Vokes in particular, made multi-million pound defenders look extremely uncomfortable against what was, with all due respect, a largely one-dimensional threat.

That alone should be worrying Conte deeply.

Andreas Christensen and Sam Vokes battle for the ball

Andreas Christensen and Sam Vokes battle for the ball

MORATA MAKES HIS PRESENCE FELT

Alvaro Morata is not Diego Costa, in personality, playing style or physical make-up but the Spaniard has to replace his international team-mate.

Morata is more in the flexible, silky mode. More happy running onto the ball into space or having it at his feet, then bullying defenders with his back to goal or barging into his market and competing for crosses ala Costa.

It’s a potentially risky strategy by Conte given how important Costa’s presence was to their overall set-up last term. That being said, from January onwards the 28-year-old was on auto-pilot with Eden Hazard taking on greater attacking responsibility.

But on top of his sizeable price-tag, having to move to a new city and country, it’s a considerable burden for Morata to bear especially when the differences between the two players are so stark.

Added to that is the fact that Morata, outside of the Spanish Under-21 side has never been a frontline, first-choice striker; either being subservient to Karim Benzema and latterly Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid or Carlo Tevez, Fernando Llorente and Mario Mandzukic at Juventus.

Either he must adapt to Chelsea’s way of playing, or Chelsea must adapt to Morata.

Based on the 31 minutes he played against Burnley, the former appears to be the most likely scenario with Morata showed encouraging sign at being able to provide the focal point of the attack, often with two Clarets centre-backs for company.

Admittedly his overall involvement was modest with just 14 touches and five passes completed but he didn’t waste any of those passes and gave the Blues attack some energy which Michy Batshuayi had failed to do during his time on the field.

Morata took his goal well, stooping to convert a header from Willian’s cross before delivering a clever looping flick-on header for David Luiz to give Stamford Bridge some semblance of belief a comeback was on the cards.

It was a very un-Morata performance but there were enough moments to show Conte that his new striker’s game can evolve. And while he can’t be, nor should be expected to become, Costa Mark II, he may well adapt to the team faster than previously forecast.

Confidence, of course, is everything for an athlete and with a goal and assist on his home debut following a week of questioning over his suitability at the defending champions, Morata provided by far the biggest positive for the Blues moving forward.

Alvaro Morata opens his Chelsea account

Alvaro Morata opens his Chelsea account

WHERE THERE IS WILL, THERE IS A WAY

Willian started just 15 Premier League games last season, and while he had a family bereavement earlier in the campaign which impacted his involvement, it is a remarkably low number for a footballer of such high quality.

Pedro was a surprisingly consistent presence, occupying the Brazilian’s right-sided forward berth but with Champions League to prepare for, it’s inconceivable that Willian will make so few starts this time around.

With Pedro injured for this encounter, the Brazilian came into the XI and just like in the Community Shield offered pace, width and trickery and helped spread the pitch as Burnley looked to keep it tightly packed in the midfield area and restrict any signs of attacking play from the hosts.

He was poor in the first-half with Conte’s gameplan torn up in light of Cahill’s red and the pressure seeming to get to the players as the atmosphere inside Stamford Bridge became uncomfortable and uncertain.

But the addition of Morata seemed to enliven the Brazilian with the two working well in tandem; Morata knowing he always had an outlet and Willian a front-foot player who could detect the Spaniard’s runs.

Willian was, if anything, chronically underused by Conte – so much so, Jose Mourinho thought he could take him to Old Trafford this summer – and the Italian simply has to turn to him more as the fixtures, domestic and continental, mount up.

He was key cog during Mourinho’s title-winning campaign, offering dribbling prowess and set-piece delivery and is a player who can make things happen.

He’s an underrated asset for a club who look low on numbers as they begin their title defence in the worst possible way.

Chelsea's Brazilian midfielder Willian

Chelsea’s Brazilian midfielder Willian

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Signing Virgil van Dijk won't be enough to solve Liverpool's defensive issues and other things learned

Alex Rea 12/08/2017
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Miguel Britos scrambled home a controversial injury-time equaliser as Watford held Liverpool in a six-goal thriller at Vicarage Road.

The Reds looked as though they had put all speculation and uncertainty over Philippe Coutinho’s future to one side to win their opening Premier League clash – only for Britos to head home from point-black range in the dying moments to seal a 3-3 draw.

Here are three things learned from Vicarage Road.

STEREOTYPICAL LIVERPOOL

Brainless at the back, bold in attach and panic in the final 10 minutes. New season, same narrative and similar Liverpool deficiencies.

Their chaotic nature is incredibly predictable and the solution to solving their frailties stretch further than simply changing personnel.

Yes, signing Virgil van Dijk would represent a significant upgrade on the edgy Dejan Lovren but their problems are systemic. The defensive trepidation is as much apart of their identity as their ability to inflict the same feeling in the opposite direction.

Not since the tenure of Rafa Benitez has a Liverpool side looked organised on the back foot.

In the seven seasons after his departure they have conceded 44, 40, 43, 50, 48, 50 and 42 league goals respectively. They begin the new campaign with three already against their name, two from a corner and one emanating from a throw in.

It’s basic fundamentals which all of Benitez’s successors have failed to grasp.

Under the Spaniard the Reds did not concede more than 28 goals in a single league season. Granted the approach was to sit back and counter-punch rather than attack on the front foot, a total tactical contrast to Klopp, but the German has to take a slice of the past in order to take the club forward.

In attack they are frenetic but the Reds require balance, knowing when to sit in deep and protect a lead and having the confidence to execute that plan.

They don’t need to go ultra negative but a space somewhere in between might suit.

Dejan Lovren and Stefano Okaka

SALAH’S IS A THRILL BUT FINISHING DOESN’T KILL

Salah in the second half showed a fraction of the ability he will be bringing to the table this season.

The first 45 he was virtually anonymous as he was left deserted by a Liverpool midfield which failed to get a hold of the ball.

But as Watford’s stoic defence dissipated and the space opened up after the break, Salah showed the type of danger he will present this season.

It’s not just his speed but the application of his pace which impresses most. His intelligent movement on the right saw him repeatedly get in threatening positions but unfortunately for the Egpytian his finishing was untidy.

Still, a debut goal and an assist will immediately alleviate the pressure of a Premier League return.

The dynamism and trickery of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Salah will terrorise defences this season as teams will struggle to shackle them for an entire 90 minutes, eventually they’ll figure it out, as they did against Watford with Mane dropping deeper and Firmino coming out wide to shake them out of their rigidity.

Salah will reap the rewards of playing alongside them.

Mohamed Salah celebrates

Mohamed Salah celebrates

DOUCOURE HAS A TOUCH OF TOURE ABOUT HIM

Abdoulaye Doucoure’s performances last season went largely unnoticed because of how poor Watford were but this campaign could be his breakout year.

It’s perhaps a lazy comparison to make but against Liverpool he had a touch of Yaya Toure about him. Marauding forward from deep, Emre Can and Jordan Henderson simply couldn’t get a hold of him.

No one took responsibility to track  him and ultimately the visitors were made to pay for it. Even when they did get a man on him he slalomed his way out of trouble with silky footwork.

The statistics tell the whole story; 100 percent take-ons completed, 100 percent aerial duels won, two chances created, two clearances and one goal – utter dominance.

Abdoulaye Doucoure

Abdoulaye Doucoure

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Jamie Vardy is man of the match but Arsene Wenger's second-half tactical tweak leaves Arsenal confused

Mark Bryans 12/08/2017
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Olivier Giroud came off the bench to head home a late winner and seal three points for Arsenal in a topsy-turvy Premier League opener against Leicester.

The Gunners had won just one of their last seven opening day fixtures and looked destined to start another campaign slowly as the 2015-16 champions took the lead twice only to lose 4-3.

The night started perfectly for Arsenal as new signing Alexandre Lacazette marked his league debut with a goal after just 94 seconds, only for Shinji Okazaki to cancel it out inside three minutes.

Jamie Vardy then capitalised on awful defending to twice put the Foxes ahead either side of Danny Welbeck’s equaliser before Arsene Wenger sent for the cavalry.

Substitute Aaron Ramsey rifled home from close range to level before Giroud – introduced alongside the Wales international – headed in an 85th-minute winner to settle a breathless encounter.

TWEET OF THE MATCH

@piersmorgan: “#WengerOUT (took 28 minutes)” – Television presenter and outspoken Arsenal fan Piers Morgan needed less than half an hour to turn on Arsene Wenger.

MOTM

Jamie Vardy. The England striker could have been turning out for the home side had he opted to accept a move to the Emirates Stadium last summer.

He decided to stay put and showed that he has the class to once again enjoy a fruitful season in the Premier League with a potential World Cup place up for grabs.

Jamie Vardy celebrates his first goal

Jamie Vardy celebrates his first goal

MOMENT

Lacazette’s header inside two minutes was the joint-fastest opening goal to a Premier League season.

The Frenchman can certainly find the back of the net and his effort here led to an entertaining game, although the former Lyon man will be worried by what he saw at the other end of the pitch.

Lacazette opens his Arsenal account

Lacazette opens his Arsenal account

VIEW FROM THE BENCH

Wenger had three first-choice central defenders missing and could do little to alter things as Nacho Monreal, Rob Holding and Sead Kolasinac struggled to co-ordinate.

The manager’s second-half tactical tweak left plenty confused as he shifted to a 4-2-3-1 system with a right-back playing on the left, two left-backs at centre-half and a midfielder at right-back – but it worked as his two substitutes scored the vital goals that turned the game on its head.

RATINGS

ARSENAL

Petr Cech: 5/10

Sead Kolasinac: 5

Nacho Monreal: 5

Rob Holding: 5

Hector Bellerin: 5

Mohamed Elneny: 6

Granit Xhaka: 6

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6

Mesut Ozil: 6

Danny Welbeck: 6

Alexandre Lacazette: 7

SUBSTITUTES

Olivier Giroud (for Holding, 67): 7

Aaron Ramsey (for Elneny, 67): 7

Theo Walcott (for Welbeck, 75): 6

Ramsey celebrates

Ramsey celebrates

LEICESTER

Kasper Schmeichel: 7

Danny Simpson: 6

Wes Morgan: 6

Harry Maguire: 7

Christian Fuchs: 6

Riyad Mahrez: 6

Wilfred Ndidi: 7

Matty James: 6

Marc Albrighton: 8

Shinji Okazaki: 7

Jamie Vardy: 9

SUBSTITUTES

Daniel Amartey (for Okazaki, 72): 5

Kelechi Iheanacho (for James, 82): 5

Demarai Gray (for Albrighton, 88): 5

Marc Albrighton

Marc Albrighton

WHO’S UP NEXT?

Arsenal v Stoke (Premier League, August 19 )

Leicester v Brighton (Premier League, August 19 )

Provided by Press Association Sport

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