Champions Chelsea suffered a nightmare start to their Premier League title defence, having two men sent off as Burnley claimed a superb win at Stamford Bridge.
It would be easy but misleading to lay the blame for the Blues’ defeat on the decision to show a red card to new club captain Gary Cahill for a lunging tackle on Steven Defour midway through the first half.
But that would deprive Burnley their due for a disciplined, energetic and ruthless first-half display that saw them score three times, with Sam Vokes netting twice – a header and a volley – either side of a lashing angled drive from Stephen Ward.
The Blues were better after the break and pulled a goal back when summer signing Alvaro Morata headed in shortly after coming off the bench.
However, the Spaniard was also at fault for denying the home side a second goal, adding an unnecessary touch to Andreas Christiansen’s goal-bound shot from an offside position.
Chelsea’s hopes looked to have gone when a late challenge from Cesc Fabregas on Jack Cork added a second yellow to his first, received for dissent, to leave the Blues with nine men.
But David Luiz fired home from inside the box after being set up by a Morata header to set up a frantic final few minutes, during which Burnley struck the post through Robbie Brady before holding on to take the three points.
Costly day for Conte and Chelsea
It has been a difficult summer for Chelsea and their boss Antonio Conte, who has openly voiced his frustration at the club’s failure to recruit his desired targets – both in terms of quality and quantity.
This game felt like the culmination of such issues and could well be the breaking point that leads to further significant moves in the transfer market.
Attacking midfielder Jeremie Boga is undoubtedly talented but his inclusion – along with a a bench populated largely by inexperienced young players – also felt like a point being made about the resources the Italian has available.
There was no Diego Costa (on his way out), no Eden Hazard or Pedro (injured) and, after 24 minutes, no Cahill, exposing the decisions to let Nathan Ake join Bournemouth and fellow defender Kurt Zouma go on loan to Stoke.
Cahill’s red card ended Boga’s shock debut early, as he was replaced by Christensen, and handed the initiative to Burnley, whose three-goal salvo added disbelief to the list of negative emotions ripping through the home support.
On the plus side for the Blues, Morata adapted quickly to life in the Premier League, showing an intelligence of movement and eagerness, even if this did lead him to deny his side a goal.
But Conte has plenty of thinking to do. This was the Blues’ first opening-day league defeat since 1998 and they have now had four men sent off in their last three competitive games, dating back to last season’s FA Cup final.
An away day to remember
There was no doubt about the secret behind Burnley’s Premier League survival last season – their form at Turf Moor.
Sean Dyche’s team had the ninth-best record in the top division – picking up 33 points at home.
In contrast, they mustered just seven away from home – and just one between the start of the season and the end of February, with a goalless draw at Manchester United on 29 October.
They didn’t win away from Turf Moor until a 2-0 victory at Crystal Palace on 29 April – and so the achievement of their opening-day victory at the current champions should not be underestimated.
If Burnley can regularly pick up points on their travels while maintaining the sort of form they showed at home, then it bodes well for their prospects this season.
With performances like this, they will do just that.
Like their opponents, they have met with frustration in their attempts to recruit players, but Cork is an astute signing, bringing a steadying influence to midfield.
Resolute defensive displays from James Tarkowski and Ben Mee and a clinical attacking showing from Vokes suggest that Dyche may not have to go shopping to replace Michael Keane or find the requisite attacking edge.
‘This quietens a few stories’ – post-match reaction
Burnley boss Sean Dyche: “We are learning and building an assured view of the Premier League. But today big decisions changed the outcome, quite obviously. 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.
“Winning away from home on the first day quietens down some stories – we’re written off at the start of every season. It kills off a few things early doors and it allows the players that space for growth.
“Chelsea have players of such calibre and to see the game through is so pleasing.”
Burnley goalscorer Sam Vokes: “We were sloppy at times but we ground out the result and we’re delighted.
“That’s a huge result – a lot was made of our away form last season. It was always going to be tough here but we got our heads down and put in a performance.”
Chelsea boss Antonio Conte: “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. I don’t want to comment on the referee, absolutely not.
“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. 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.
“Morata is very important and it’s important that he now adapts himself to our philosophy – today he played a good game with the right intensity. Now he has to continue to work with all the rest of our players.”
Chelsea boss Antonio Conte would doubtless want to see some new faces arrive at the club as a matter of urgency – but the next fixture for his team is a tough-looking trip to London rivals Tottenham on 20 August.
Burnley welcome West Brom to Turf Moor a day earlier.