Chelsea secured a hard earned away win away at Bournemouth on Saturday, with Eden Hazard’s 51st minute strike enough to give the visitors all three points.
It was a close score line at the Vitality stadium, however in reality Chelsea displayed control throughout and showed exhibition play at times in and around the Bournemouth penalty area. Hazard was the man of the match, recording his 5th goal in four games against Bournemouth and using his bright play to create numerous opportunities for the away side.
It was not only the defeat that will dampen Bournemouth’s spirits, but also the loss of Afobe and Stanislas to groin injuries. This is especially worrying given Bournemouth’s key fixtures on the horizon against fellow bottom-half of the table teams. The one piece of good news however will be the return of Callum Wilson to the side, as he came off the bench on his return from an extremely lengthy injury lay-off.
Cahill was surprisingly dropped in this game, seemingly with Conte looking for more defensive stability after not recording a clean sheet since 23rd September. This was particularly necessary on today of all days due to the desperate need for the Blues to record a win – starting the game 12 points behind City after their earlier victory. Meanwhile, Bournemouth opted to match their counterparts with a three at the back formation.
This provided them with a foundation for a strong performance against Manchester City earlier in the season, despite that ending in defeat, and so seemed a positive option against another top side. Howe also opted to field an offensive line-up, with both Defoe and Afobe starting, hoping that these tactics would stimulate a win and in turn a rise from a lowly 19th in the table.
First big chance fell to Morata on the 24th minute, and he really ought to have scored given his quality. Meanwhile it was relief for Begovic, whose failed clearance went straight to Hazard. The Belgian then guided a simple pass through to Morata, who managed to drag it wide on the first time shot with just Begovic to beat.
Only four minutes later, Morata looked to make amends, only for the offside flag to deny him. Following a short corner, Hazard played the ball to the edge of the box, which encouraged David Luiz to test out his shooting abilities. A Bournemouth block prevented him from replicating his effort against Roma, but the block did not prevent the threat as Begovic still had to make the save, only for the rebound to be illegally converted by Morata.Embed from Getty Images
Morata yet again continued to be involved in the key chances, with an impressive save from Begovic being the reason this time for the striker not being on the score sheet. It was impressive play from the Spaniard to make a smart turn in the box and release the trigger, and Bournemouth were left thanking Begovic’s imposing presence in the way of the goal.
It remained deadlock unbroken at half time, however Chelsea had been in full control for this half, with Eddie Howe likely frustrated by the lack of threat his team had offered. The two strikers in play had not proved effective for the Cherries, and so moving into the second half Jordan Ibe was deemed the man to provide more of a threat, coming on in place of Jermaine Defoe.
By the 51st minute however, Bournemouth had soaked up enough pressure and Chelsea finally had their goal. Begovic’s mixed game against his former side was at its worst here, as Hazard drilled it into the near corner of the goal from a tight angle and the ‘keeper’s hand was not strong enough to deny the effort.
Despite being 1-0 down, the change at half-time seemed to be reaping some reward. The Cherries had much greater impetus, with there being heavy pressure on the Chelsea players and the home side even fashioning half chances.Embed from Getty Images
Nevertheless Chelsea were still the side in the ascendency overall. They coped well with the pressure, and continued to display excellent link-up play, particularly when Hazard was involved. It was only the end product preventing them from extending their lead.
Bournemouth left their first attempt on target until the 93rd minute to provide late nerves for the Blues, but it was all too little too late as Chelsea recorded a victory on the south coast.
This will provide Chelsea with confidence heading into their midweek away fixture in Rome, whilst Bournemouth will be desperate to demonstrate more positive play in their crucial upcoming Premier League fixtures.
Written by Theo Atherton-Green.