All eras close yet even by the unsentimental standards of the Premier League the end of Petr Cech’s reign as Chelsea’s undisputed No1 served as a brutal act. Thank you and goodbye appeared the message from José Mourinho at Turf Moor to a foundation of the club’s success, though it was not the only arresting statement to come from Chelsea.
Mourinho disputed the theory that starting Thibaut Courtois in the convincing 3-1 defeat of Burnley signalled the end of Cech’s decade of outstanding service between the posts for Chelsea. “I do not like the saying ‘for the rest of the season’,” he said of the Belgium international’s status at Stamford Bridge. “He was the first choice today and played well enough to be my first choice in the next game but, when you have a top professional like Petr, if you do not perform you are in trouble. I am not in trouble, Chelsea are not in trouble. I am safe, Chelsea are safe. I want to keep Petr and hopefully he stays.”
The final 14 days of the transfer window will determine how content Cech is with a reduced role at Chelsea, having given everything in winning the Champions League, the Europa League, three Premier League titles and four FA Cups in almost 500 appearances for the club. “No player is happy when they are not playing every game,” added Mourinho. “But he didn’t ask [for a transfer] and I hope he does not ask.”
Cech’s demotion may be harsh. It may be a reflection of Chelsea’s determination to keep Courtois sweet after three seasons on loan at Atlético Madrid and, as the 22-year-old enters the final two years of his contract, one liable to be extended now he has possession of the jersey, the 32-year-old will know it is a long way back on this evidence. His replacement, Diego Costa and Cesc Fábregas all impressed as Mourinho showed he will not shirk the major calls required to return Chelsea to the pinnacle of the Premier League.
Chelsea did not require repair in goal and , while it is only one game against a newly-promoted Burnley team operating on the smallest budget in the top flight, Costa and Fábregas quickly showed they can correct the fault-lines of last season. Courtois also opened well, dominating his area, handling well and producing a fine save to deny Scott Arfield a second excellent goal on the night. One criticism would be the ease with which Arfield’s opening goal sailed into the centre of the Chelsea net, even if Courtois was partially unsighted by the crowd of defenders in front of him.
Costa’s Premier League debut was blotted by a yellow card for diving and, while there was contact from the Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton, the striker certainly exaggerated the foul at the expense of converting Ben Mee’s under-hit back-pass. That aside, the £32m signing enjoyed an encouraging debut with his intelligent movement and direct, purposeful running in possession reminiscent of Fernando Torres during his Liverpool pomp.
The Spain international’s first goal in English football was routine for the scorer of 27 in Atlético’s La Liga winning campaign, swept home from 10 yards after Branislav Ivanovic’s cross rebounded off a post, but significant in the eyes of a jubilant Mourinho. Chelsea suffered for strikers forgetting the basics last season and Costa’s finish, plus the sense of danger he brought to every counter-attack from the visitors, was a convincing way of addressing that failure.
But it was former Arsenal captain Fábregas who stood out among the new boys at Turf Moor. ‘Cesc is a blue’ read a banner in the away end, just in case any Arsenal fans were watching, and his touch, control and range of passing shone throughout. The £30m signing from Barcelona started alongside Nemanja Matic in Chelsea’s central midfield and was alert to every opportunity to support the attack.
Fábregas sent Andre Schürrle racing down the left channel with his first pass of note and it was his exquisite touch that enabled the World Cup winner to give Chelsea the lead seven minutes after Burnley had edged in front. The vision to spot Schürrle’s run behind the home defence and the perfectly weighted chip into the path of the Germany international supported Mourinho’s conviction that Fábregas can fill the formidable void left by Frank Lampard. The Spain midfielder also demonstrated his precision at set pieces with the corner that enabled Ivanovic to volley home Chelsea’s third.
All in all it was a vibrant start from Chelsea’s new brigade. The repercussions for Cech, however, may have just begun.