Dyche outwits Italian master Conte
Dyche's men find formula to frustrate title favourites Chelsea
(Robbie Brady 24)
(Pedro Rodriguez 7)
For the chasing pack, Burnley's breakthrough probably comes a little too late to change the final destination of the title.
But for a pulsating, bruising 94 minutes, the Turf Moor terriers succeeded last night where so many others had previously failed.
They found a solution to a seemingly unsolvable problem. They not only held the Blues, but also played them at their own game.
In other words, manager Sean Dyche pulled off a 1-1 draw by directing Burnley to out-Chelsea Chelsea, by way of Leicester City last season.
The line-up was a conventional 4-4-2 and the strategy mirrored that of the title-winning Foxes - switch defence to attack as swiftly as possible, get a relentless central midfielder to move like an automaton to hold the lines together and pray that the formation holds.
And it came off.
Like Leicester last season, Burnley ran relentlessly, pumped balls to their front pair of Ashley Barnes and Andre Gray, utilised the space either side of Chelsea's back three and made Joey Barton work almost as hard as he does on Twitter.
As the game progressed and the Blues increasingly ran out of ideas, Antonio Conte paid Burnley the highest compliment.
He switched to four at the back. His beloved back three, the masterstroke that should still earn Chelsea the silverware, had to be jettisoned.
GLIMMER OF HOPE
Burnley's draw does little in terms of the title race, but it does offer a glimmer of hope, a possible template for others to follow.
The Burnley way may not be enough to defeat Chelsea. But it can stop them, an outcome that looked highly unlikely after seven minutes.
In the freezing conditions, the Blues were a blizzard of bright, positive movement and deserved their early lead.
BY THE NUMBERS1
Robbie Brady is the first player to score a direct free-kick against Chelsea in the EPL since Rickie Lambert bagged one for Southampton in 2013.
Just seven minutes were needed and the goal was a thing of rare beauty.
From the left-back position, the Blues advanced quickly before Victor Moses was found in a different solar system. The makeshift forward galloped along the right flank and cut a cross back for Pedro.
One touch, one exquisite finish without breaking stride and Chelsea were ahead.
From start to finish, the goal epitomised the club's season: fast, inventive, decisive and utterly joyous.
Robbie Brady, making his full Burnley debut, inadvertently helped Chelsea's cause by losing Moses' run and arriving later than a Donald Trump apology.
But Burnley's record £13-million (S$23.1m) signing made amends in fine style.
In the 25th minute, Brady whipped a vicious free-kick over the wall and past Thibaut Courtois before the goalkeeper could move.
Turf Moor had witnessed two remarkable goals. The only surprise was they were shared between the two teams.
But Dyche is a wily operator and the visitors were clearly rattled at the unexpected countering.
Only Courtois' flailing leg denied Matthew Lowton's goal-bound effort and the league leaders trudged off at half-time slightly shell-shocked.
Burnley were matching Chelsea's pressing with counter-pressing and 34-year-old Barton was matching N'Golo Kante's tireless industry in central midfield.
Extraordinarily, the Blues' swashbuckling 3-4-3 left their defence just as exposed in the second half and Gray almost put Burnley ahead in the 47th minute.
His shot was tame, but the hosts' relentless attacking was anything but.
They boast the fourth-best home record in the EPL for good reason. Rumours of Turf Moor being a fortress were not exaggerated.
Of course, a draw was hardly a disaster for Chelsea but Conte struggles with mathematical pragmatism at the best of times.
He introduced Cesc Fabregas to win the game and then brought on Willian in place of Moses to allow a switch to a 4-4-1-1 and perhaps preserve the point in the frenetic finish.
In the end, neither side deserved to lose. But the moral victory belonged to Burnley.
The title race is still alive. Just.