The praise for Reece James was among the most palatable from traveling Chelsea fans as the winger sent an emphatic reminder of what Thomas Tuchel was missing.
In his first start since December 29, the England international scored a spectacular individual goal and was instrumental in two others.
“He’s one of us” sang the away team after James left Dwight McNeil with twisted blood and fired a shot past Nick Pope.
Before kick-off, some had chanted the name of Roman Abramovich during a minute of applause to show their support for Ukraine after the Russian invasion.
It was in poor taste and earned the mockery of the majority of Turf Moor.
Their acknowledgment of James was more appropriate. He was brilliant.
At his best, he’s practically unplayable – blessed with marvelous balance, quick feet, and frightening speed and power.
His target was superb individual skill that proves why he is so central to Tuchel’s system, which relies on inspiration from outside in the absence of a No.10.
James and Ben Chilwell have been key to any title challenge this season. So losing one was always going to be damaging. Losing both, devastating.
And that’s how it turned out after Chelsea gave up a six-point lead atop the Premier League to end up watching Manchester City and Liverpool make it a two-horse title chase.
Could they have kept pace with James involved after Chilwell’s knee ligament injury? It’s debatable – but from the moment he limped out of their 1-1 draw with Brighton in their last game of 2021, Tuchel knew he was in trouble.
The German wanted to provide immediate cover in the January window as James’ hamstring injury was so bad.
None could be found and Chelsea paid the price.
A 4-0 win over Burnley that still leaves them 13 points behind City, albeit one game less, shows the gap that still exists. But the influence James could have had on a miserable January which saw them take just four points from a possible 12 cannot be underestimated.
He’s so important to them – and probably to England too.
Tuchel also benefits from a forward line that shows more fluidity with Kai Havertz flanked by Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount.
Havertz struck twice in the second half after struggling to make an impression in the first 45 minutes.
Pulisic, meanwhile, shook off the shackles of Burnley’s special attention to score one and make one as Chelsea turned on the class after the break.
They could have been at least two in a first half in which Burnley pressed well and created clean chances.
Sean Dyche’s relegation-threatened side could have taken the lead after 17 minutes when Wout Weghorst headed Aaron Lennon’s cross goal through a congested box.
Edouard Mendy was rooted, but Thiago Silva was in the right place at the right time to clear the line.
McNeil then missed a great chance to open the scoring with a shot from close range.
Ashley Westwood’s lobbed cross looked easy enough for Mendy to handle – but the Chelsea keeper missed his punch under pressure from Weghorst.
The ball fell on McNeill from six yards out – but with an open net in front of him he couldn’t hold his shot.
Chelsea provided few chances, but that all changed after half-time.
It started with James’ magic moment two minutes into the restart.
Picking up the ball to the right of the box with McNeil in his way, he went out, then in and out again, before shooting low into the far corner.
Six minutes later and Havertz doubled their lead.
James was involved again, feeding Pulisic, whose floating cross found Havertz’s run at the far post.
The German returned home.
He got his second sliding to meet a low cross from James in the 55th minute.
Pulisc then completed the scoring in the 69th minute – taking advantage of an error inside Burnley’s penalty area to fire from close range.
Home fans immediately rushed to the exit. They had seen enough.
Chelsea, meanwhile, hope to see a lot more of what James can do for their trophy hopes by the end of the season.