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1516 burnley turf moor 04Burnley face league leaders Chelsea tomorrow at Turf Moor in what is, rightly, being billed as the toughest home game yet with the Londoners some nine points clear at the top of the league.

It’s no surprise to see Chelsea top. When Burnley have previously been in the Premier League they’ve gone on and won it, under the management of Carlo Ancelotti in 2009/10 and Jose Mourinho two season ago.

As for the Clarets, I think we are all happy with where we are in the league right now and today’s results have hardly been disappointing. All of the bottom three – Hull, Crystal Palace and Sunderland – were beaten with Middlesbrough the only one of the four teams below us to play and get anything; they won a point in a 0-0 home draw against Everton.

After tomorrow’s game, we won’t play at home again in the Premier League until April although, of course, we now have the cup tie against Lincoln to look forward to a week today. This run of away games has loomed all season but I think to go into them in the position we are in, no matter what tomorrow’s result may be, is excellent.

It would be fantastic to take our points total past 30 which would surely leave us with not too many more needed to get another season in the top league.

When we last played at home, against Leicester, we’d signed one player that day before the game with another signing confirmed not too long after kick off. Both Ashley Westwood, signed from Aston Villa, and Robbie Brady, the later signing from Norwich, made their debuts as substitutes at Watford last week but both could come into contention to start tomorrow.

Westwood has settled in well in the last week and a half. He said: “Coming here I see it as a fresh start and getting my career back on track. There have been tough times but this is a nicely set up club and where I want to play my football.

1617 burnley ashley westwood 00 500x500“We are looking in good stead but it’s a tough league. We don’t want to be looking over our shoulders, we want to be pushing on. The boys here are tremendous and they are reaping their rewards.”

Westwood has arrived at an opportune moment and he could get his first start for Burnley in a midfield pairing with Joey Barton, two players who weren’t even with us when 2016 ended.

It’s happen as well we have signed them with just about every other central midfield player unavailable. Dean Marney suffered an ACL injury at Arsenal, Steven Defour limped off against Leicester with a hamstring injury and is currently in Belgium receiving treatment, and last week Jeff Hendrick, who has been in such good form, landed himself a three match ban with our first red card since May 2015.

I wouldn’t be surprised if both start. We could line up: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, George Boyd, Ashley Westwood, Joey Barton, Robbie Brady, Ashley Barnes, Andre Gray. Subs: Paul Robinson, Jon Flanagan, Tendayi Darikwa, James Tarkowski, Scott Arfield, Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Sam Vokes.

Chelsea looked good when we played them at Stamford Bridge in August. They actually looked very good and it ensured a win in each of the first three games of the season for them having already beaten West Ham at home and Watford at Vicarage Road.

What followed was surprising. They could only draw at Swansea and then suffered successive defeats at home to Liverpool and at Arsenal, where they were beaten 3-0. It prompted a change from manager Antonio Conte who opted to go with a back three. That defeat at Arsenal came on 24th September; they didn’t drop another point until 2017 when they suffered a 2-0 reverse at Spurs on 4th January.

That was a run of 13 league wins between those two defeats and they kept clean sheets in all but three of them. It’s set them up nicely and in the four games since that defeat at White Hart Lane they’ve won another three and drawn at Liverpool.

They have real quality players right across the pitch, from David Luiz, who has been in outstanding form at the back, through N’Golo Kante and Eden Hazard to Diego Costa, the leading goalscorer with 15 league goals.

It’s been a remarkable recovery for Chelsea who ended last season in 10th place. At one point in the season they were as low as 16th and it took a run of seven wins and eight draws between mid-December and early April to rescue their season.

This time, under new management, they haven’t really looked back and they’ll be looking for a third successive league win at Turf Moor. They beat us 2-1 in 2010 on the occasion of Brian Laws’ first home game in charge and two seasons ago it was 3-1 in our opening game of the season. They can add two Stamford Bridge 3-0 wins to that with our only return coming in 2015 when a Ben Mee goal gave us a point in a 1-1 draw.

Chelsea are expected to be unchanged from the team that beat Arsenal 3-1 last week at Stamford Bridge. That team was: Thibaut Courtois, Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Gary Cahill, Victor Moses, N’Golo Kante, Nemanja Matic, Marcos Alonso, Pedro, Diego Costa, Eden Hazard. Subs: Asmir Begovic, John Terry, Nathaniel Chalobah, Michy Batshuayi, Kurt Zouma, Willian, Cesc Fàbregas.

 

LAST TIME THEY WERE HERE

 

Burnley had won promotion to the Premier League for a second time in 2014 and the fixtures had given us a home game against champions Chelsea to kick off the season. We were the last teams to start with the game moved to the Monday night for screening live by Sky.

Our line up showed just two changes to the team that had been so familiar in the previous season, winning promotion with 93 points with Michael Kightly the only player to be left out. New signing Matt Taylor came in on the left hand side for him with Lukas Jutkiewicz, the other new signing, preferred to Ashley Barnes with Sam Vokes some months away from fitness.

The players emerged from the new tunnel in the corner between the cricket field and Longside stands and the scene was set, but I’m not so sure we were prepared for the Chelsea onslaught that came once we’d dared to go in front.

There was less than a quarter of an hour gone when Chelsea headed a corner out to Dean Marney who himself headed it out to Taylor who had taken the corner. He got to the line before pulling the ball back to Scott Arfield who took one touch before hitting a spectacular volley into the net.

Would that rouse Chelsea? The answer was yes, and more. For the next twenty minutes they ripped us apart with some breathtaking football. They were level within three minutes when Diego Costa hammered home after a Branislav Ivanović cross had deflected off the post and four minutes after that they were in front with a goal that was something special.

Cesc Fàbregas had given us a master class in 2009 for Arsenal and his pass to set up Andre Schürrle was simply incredible. On 34 minutes, Ivanović got on the scoresheet and we wondered just how many it  was going to be.

“We’ve been outplayed but we are not playing badly,” someone said to me at half time and that summed it up. Thankfully, the second half didn’t live up to the first and we got through without any further damage.

I wondered whether we were ready for the Premier League. It was more that we’d just played the best team in the league.

The teams were;

Burnley: Tom Heaton, Kieran Trippier, Michael Duff, Jason Shackell, Ben Mee, Scott Arfield, Dean Marney, David Jones, Matt Taylor (Michael Kightly 70), Danny Ings (Marvin Sordell 82), Lukas Jutkiewicz (Ashley Barnes 70). Subs not used: Matt Gilks, Cameron Dummigan, Kevin Long, Ross Wallace.

Chelsea: Thibaut Courtois, Branislav Ivanović, Gary Cahill, John Terry, Cesar Azpilicueta, Cesc Fàbregas, Nemanja Matic, Andre Schürrle (Willian 78), Oscar (John Obi Mikel 82), Eden Hazard (Didier Drogba 84), Diego Costa. Subs not used: Petr Cech, Kurt Zouma, Fernando Torres, Filipe Luis.

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