Antonio Conte lamented his Chelsea side’s lack of discipline as the start of their Premier League title defence ended with only nine players on the pitch as they were surprised 3-2 by Burnley at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
Both captain Gary Cahill and midfielder Cesc Fabregas were dismissed by referee Craig Pawson as Chelsea followed up on a troubled pre-season build-up with an opening weekend defeat to a side who are among the favourites to be relegated this season.
Cahill was sent off by Pawson after only 14 minutes for lunging at Steven Defour with a high tackle and Burnley’s response was to storm 3-0 ahead by half time through two goals from Sam Vokes and a superb strike by Stephen Ward.
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The arrivial of substitute Alvaro Morata lifted Chelsea in the second half, and despite their numerical disadvantage, they hinted at a fightback.
Morata pulled one back on his debut following his summer move from Real Madrid, and although Fabregas saw red for a second bookable offence, David Luiz netted in the closing minutes to set up a nervous final few minutes for the visitors.
But Burnley held on to claim a first win at Stamford Bridge since 1971, and leave Conte lamenting the early dismissal of Cahill for putting his side on the backfoot.
“The sending off of Cahill was a key moment, because to play the rest of the game with 10 and then nine men is not easy,” the Italian told the BBC as he reflected on more red cards for his side, coming a week after Pedro was sent off in the Community Shield against Arsenal at Wembley Stadium.
“In recent games we have finished with nine or 10 men. I have to try to adapt a new system and to anticipate playing with nine or 10 men in the next game. I don’t want to comment on the referee, absolutely not.”
Conte took heart from his side’s second-half fightback, and the fact they were able to push Burnley so hard, but conceded they had left themselves with too much to do after their first-half capitulation.
“We tried until the end to reach a good result against Burnley. It was a pity because our fight in the second half was very good,” he said.
“But our first half we kept losing our heads; after the red card we lost our heads, conceded two goals and then it’s very difficult to change the final result.”
The build-up to the game had been marred by Conte’s visible frustration with his side’s transfer business over the summer, with Morata, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Antonio Rudiger their main acquisitions so far.
“We must focus on working very hard with these players,” Conte said of his squad.
“As for the transfer market, the club is trying to do the best. I am not worried, I am ready to fight with these players. I repeat: it is important for us to concentrate on our work, to be focused every day in training and to try to work in our best way. No excuses.”
Burnley won only once on their travels last season in the league, having to wait until their 18th away match to achieve it, and Sean Dyche admitted they had enjoyed some fortune in prevailing.
“Today big decisions changed the outcome, quite obviously,” the Burnley manager said. “The first half pleased me because although Chelsea went to 10 men it was not easy.
“We kept going, kept probing and it’s 3-0 at the interval. And it was weird at half time because you have to decide how you’re going to approach it from there.
“Winning away from home on the first days quietens down some stories - we’re written off at the start of every season.”
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