Cahill dismissal leaves Chelsea reeling as Blues are stunned by Burnley
Chelsea endured a nightmare start to the defence of the Premier League title they won in convincing fashion last season as Burnley ran out 3-2 winners in suspense-filled thriller at Stamford Bridge.
Referee Craig Pawson was the focal point of home supporters' ire as he sent off Chelsea skipper Gary Cahill off early on, thereby plunging the Blues into defensive disarray. A brace from Sam Vokes split by a goal from Stephen Ward put Burnley 3-0 up before the break as Pawson's decisions continued to invite criticism.
Chelsea battled back in the second half with goals from substitute Alvaro Morata and David Luiz but ended the game with nine men as Cesc Fabregas was dismissed late on.
There was enough combative spirit on display to suggest there is no crisis in the camp and the eye-catching performance of sub Morata suggests they have a striker capable of filling Diego Costa's prolific goal-scoring boots.
The needless loss of Cahill and Fabregas to suspension could prove calamitous, given Chelsea's resources are already stretched. Antonio Conte must now plan for life without them for the trip to Wembley to face Tottenham next week.
Manager rating out of 10
5 -- Conte's selection bore the hallmarks of a plea for reinforcements. Is that the right thing to do though? The indication that Morata wasn't ready to start seemed a little far-fetched, given the striker's livewire performance when he entered the fray.
Player ratings (1-10, 10 = best, players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Thibaut Courtois, 6 -- A victim of cruel circumstance. The last thing Courtois would have expected was that he'd be picking the ball out of the net three times in the first half and then spend the closing moments of the game playing as a sweeper.
DF Antonio Rudiger, 5 -- A debut to forget for the Germany international, who was caught in the crossfire of the Cahill drama. Clearly fazed by the fallout of the incident, by the time he got to grips with the task at hand it was too late. Looked more robust in the second half and posed a threat going forward.
DF David Luiz, 7 -- With Cahill off the pitch and the Blues 3-0 down, it was down to the Brazilian to lead a fight-back. Luiz never gave up the cause and gave supporters hope with a lovely late goal. In the end it wasn't enough, and the distress the defender displayed as he lay down on his back at the final whistle showed what the defeat meant to him.
DF Gary Cahill, 2 -- A straight red for an irresponsible-looking challenge on Steven Defour effectively cost Chelsea the game as the defence lost its shape long enough for Burnley to put the game beyond reach. Debatable as Pawson's decision may be, there was no need for Cahill to have made a lunge for the ball in the way he did.
MF Cesar Azpilicueta, 6 -- Fielded at right wing-back in place of suspended Victor Moses, Azpilicueta struggled to get to grips with Sam Vokes. Offensively, got forward with the ball and got in some decent crosses.
MF Marcos Alonso, 7 -- Booked early on for a late tackle on Matthew Lowton, Alonso had to err on the side of caution with his subsequent challenges. Always posed a threat going forward and brought a couple of decent saves out of Burnley keeper Tom Heaton.
MF N'Golo Kante, 5 -- Bossed midfield right up to the minute Cahill was dismissed. Unfortunately that was only the opening quarter of an hour. In the debacle that followed, Kante was unable to get to grips with Jack Cork as Chelsea lost control of midfield for the balance of the half.
MF Cesc Fabregas, 4 -- Similarly to Kante, was having a decent game early on but allowed the Cahill incident to play with his mind. Booked for sarcastically chiding the referee moments later and received a second yellow late on for a late challenge on former Chelsea youngster Cork.
FW Willian, 8 -- Chelsea's best player. A hub of inventiveness throughout the game, the Brazil international delivered a fabulous ball for Morata to head home. Worked seamlessly with Alonso as the duo constantly gave Burnley problems particularly in the second half.
FW Jeremie Boga, 5 -- A surprise debutant, sadly Boga had little time to show his prodigious ability as Cahill's sending off forced Conte to make a change to reinforce his defence. Replaced in the 18th minute.
FW Michy Batshuayi, 5 -- Toiled in the face of adversity that wasn't his doing. Never really had the opportunity to get into the game and was replaced by Morata on the hour mark.
FW Andreas Christensen, 7 -- Thrown in at the deep end following Cahill's dismissal, Christensen struggled to cope with the intensity of the contest. Grew in stature after the break and might have scored if Morata hadn't touched his goal-bound shot making it offside.
FW Alvaro Morata, 7 -- A goal, an assist and a naïve touch on Christensen's shot made for an eventful 30-minute cameo debut. Looks every inch the striker Chelsea need to replace Diego Costa. If only he'd played from the start.
MF Charly Musonda, NR -- An injury time replacement for Christensen. Didn't get a chance to be the hero Conte had hoped for.
Mark Worrall is one of ESPN FC's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @gate17marco