Callum Hudson-Odoi scored his first Premier League goal as Chelsea returned to winning ways at Stamford Bridge with a comfortable victory over struggling Burnley.
The England winger showed a nice bit of opportunism, stealing in to the box to finish off Cesar Azpilicueta’s chipped ball, to net his side’s third and seal the win shortly after half-time.
The Blues have faltered at the Bridge in recent weeks, losing to three sides near the relegation zone, and were struggling to break down a well-organised Burnley in the opening 25 minutes until Matt Lowton’s reckless sliding tackle on Willian enabled Jorginho to open the scoring from the penalty spot.
Visiting keeper Nick Pope then allowed Tammy Abraham’s close-range header to evade his grasp and find the net to give the Blues a grip on the game before they had even got out of second gear.
The Blues could have had more but three was plenty against a Clarets side who rarely threatened, coming closest to a goal through a Ben Mee header that Ross Barkley hacked off the line.
Chelsea were assured of being fourth in the league regardless of Saturday’s result, but the win ensures they preserve a five-point cushion between themselves and Manchester United, who lead the pack below them chasing Champions League qualification.
Burnley have now suffered four defeats on the bounce – a run of results that has dragged them firmly into the relegation battle. They are four points above the bottom three, but that margin could be reduced on Sunday, with Bournemouth and Aston Villa both in action.
Chelsea given helping hand, but deserve the win
As the saying goes, goals change games, and the two Chelsea scored here in the first half are firm evidence as to the truth of this.
For 25 minutes, the Blues looked like a side who have suffered at home at the hands of defensive-minded opponents.
West Ham, Bournemouth and Southampton – sides then with form and league position not dissimilar to Burnley – have all been to west London and left with a clean sheet and three unexpected points.
Despite adding the inventive Ross Barkley to a midfield three already containing Mason Mount they lacked the incisiveness and crispness of passing required to open up a well-drilled Clarets.
But they were given a foothold in the game – one from which their victory was built – through Lowton’s ill-advised sliding challenge on Willian in the box.
The Brazilian showed an element of canniness, ensuring contact to maximise the ugliness of the challenge, but such recklessness is rarely tolerated.
Pope’s offence was greater. He is a talented keeper, but flapped at Abraham’s downward header, failing to make contact with the ball as it sped past him and in.
That left 50 minutes for the Clarets to play with defeat almost inevitable.
Hudson-Odoi made sure of that with his neat finish almost immediately after the break.
The winger has had his critics during some inconsistent form following such a big initial billing, but he is now warming to his place in this side.
Christian Pulisic scored a hat-trick to give Chelsea victory over Burnley at Turf Moor this season. Taking the American’s place in the side, Hudson-Odoi’s display was not quite as devastating, but now provides Lampard with a welcome selection headache.
Burnley in free fall
Burnley’s season has been a repeated case of one step forward, two steps back. Three times they have put together encouraging back-to-back results, only to then lose successive games.
The result at Stamford Bridge – their fourth defeat on the spin – represents a new low for the campaign, maybe not in terms of performance but certainly as regards form and league position.
There are mitigating circumstances, with manager Sean Dyche largely reliant on one consistent attacking threat in Chris Wood, because of injuries to Ashley Barnes and Jay Rodriguez.
He almost lost Wood too during this game, with damage to his nose in the first half requiring him to twice leave the field for treatment.
Dyche’s attempted solution to his side’s current dire run and a return of just five goals from nine games was to play Jeff Hendrick behind Wood as part of a five-man midfield.
It worked in the first quarter, but had too little dynamism and attacking instinct to turn the tide once the second goal went in.
Aaron Lennon offered little, Dwight McNeil was shackled and Wood was left an isolated figure.
To add to the Clarets’ woes, some of their rivals at the bottom have shown a dramatic upturn in fortune. Watford’s new manager bounce and Southampton’s rejuvenation have blown the battle at the bottom wide open.
Even West Ham and Aston Villa have shown signs of life, the latter most significantly in their 2-1 win at Turf Moor on New Year’s Day.
Considering that all seven of Burnley’s wins this season have come against sides currently occupying a spot in the bottom half of the table, their next games against Leicester, Manchester United and Arsenal are an extremely daunting prospect.
Pick up some points from these fixtures and optimism will return. Lose all three and the pressure to get anything from subsequent encounters against Southampton, Bournemouth and Newcastle will be monumental.
Man of the match – Reece James (Chelsea)
More to follow.