Nestled between the abandoned cotton mills and rows of tightly packed terraces in this small pocket of East Lancashire, Chelsea taught Burnley a harsh lesson in what to expect on their return to the Premier League.
“We give the players a lot of education. I'm not a nightclub bouncer, I just look like one,” said Sean Dyche before the game, but none of his teachings can match the manner of Chelsea’s 3-1 victory for thoroughness.
It started so well for Burnley when Scott Arfield rifled them into the lead in the 14th minute. As his team-mates stepped out from a corner, John Terry was caught daydreaming about whatever John Terry daydreams about, allowing Matt Taylor to break clear and cross for Arfield to score. It was a sweet strike from a player who epitomises Dyche’s school of hard knocks, having been released by Huddersfield in the summer of 2013 before winning promotion with the Clarets 12 months later.
But from that moment it was all Chelsea, as the Blues answered Mourinho’s demand that they prove their credentials as title challengers. “We have the squad that we want to have,” he said last week. “It is a squad for tomorrow, for next season and also a squad with big possibilities for the next five or ten years.” Most managers are happy to see their team mount one assault on the championship, but this is a league Mourinho has won on two previous occasions. Now he’s aiming for domination.
Mourinho will feel that opportunity knocks, too, with the Premier League experiencing its greatest ever period of uncertainty following Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. The top four is becoming a more changeable beast and, although Manchester City stole United’s perch last season, Chelsea have laid the foundations to try and make top spot their own for the foreseeable future. Watching the speed and intelligence of their play on Monday, it’s no wonder they have been installed as early favourites for the title in Mourinho’s second season in charge.
Everything seems to accelerate in Mourinho’s second seasons. At Internazionale he led the club to a historic Treble in 2010 and two years later he ended Barcelona’s possession of La Liga’s crown with Real Madrid. And now, in the second year of his second spell at Chelsea, he is confident his team can escape its flaws of the previous campaign, which saw them fail in several tests similar to the one posed by Burnley. A year older, a year wiser and with four solid signings completed in record time, this is a side to fear in 2014/15.
A brilliant team performance reinforced that argument at Turf Moor, but it was the telling contributions of several individuals that will particularly please Mourinho. Cesc Fabregas was superb throughout, pulling strings and playing with a point to prove after his unexpected difficulties at Barcelona, while Diego Costa - with both names on his shirt, just in case you forget - led the line like the Didier Drogba of old, bullying Burnley’s defence and continuing to wreak havoc as he did in Spain for Atletico Madrid.
It was Andre Schurrle, however, who really toasted Chelsea’s transition under Mourinho. Often on the periphery of the first XI last season, here he was central to the Blues’ constant attacking threat and persistent targeting of Burnley left-back Ben Mee. In the opening stages, Schurrle linked intuitively with Oscar - the two clearly back on speaking terms after that night in Belo Horizonte - before breaking the hosts’ off-side trap and driving a low cross that was cleared for a corner. It was a sign of things to come, but Burnley failed to heed the warning.
After Costa mopped up some sloppy defending to score his first goal in England and Chelsea’s equaliser, Schurrle soon spotted another gap to exploit on the right, darting in to connect with Fabregas’s sublime pass and finish first time. He may have departed for Brazil with his club role uncertain, but the German has returned a World Cup winner ready to play a leading part in Chelsea’s season.
Branislav Ivanovic ensured the points were safe before half time and, although the Ginger Mourinho pushed his team forward after the break, they were kept at arm’s length by one of the toughest opponents they will face this season. “We are, perhaps, the biggest underdogs in the history of the league,” wrote Dyche in his programme notes. “But that is something to relish, not fear.”
After watching a Chelsea side already displaying an ominous swagger, you have the feeling this is a campaign Mourinho is also relishing.