Match Review: Chelsea vs. Bournemouth
No Costa, No Kante, No Problem.
Stamford Bridge | December 26th 2016
Bournemouth visited Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Boxing Day for the 18th round of the 2016/17 premier league season. Chelsea arrived the mid way point in record breaking form having won 11 in a row - a single season club record - Conte, the first manager to do so in his first 14 games in charge. Chelsea were looking to break the club record for most consecutive wins ever and continue their strident charge towards May, but most importantly to put some daylight between them and other title rivals the closest of which was Liverpool, only 6 points behind.
Bournemouth on the other hand came into Boxing day on the back of a loss to Southampton, however Eddie Howe’s team have impressed so far with high profile wins most famously against Liverpool earlier this month. Bournemouth’s highly rated Eddie Howe set his team up in a 3-5-2 formation to counter Conte’s 3-4-3, looking to outman Chelsea in midfield and remain compact in defence. Chelsea’s formation was unsurprising, however key personnel changes included Fabregas coming in for the suspended Kante, and Conte deciding to go with a front three of Pedro-Hazard-Moses instead of a natural striker in Mitchy Batshuayi for likewise suspended Diego Costa.
Both teams looked evenly matched in possession in the initial stages of the match. Chelsea clearly were the more eager to create chances but save for a few quick long balls over the top by Fabregas and Luiz to catch Bournemouth’s defence out of shape, Chelsea did not manage to create much at all until around the 15 minute when Hazard let lose a tame shot from outside the box. It was evident of the lack of penetration at the time but things changed and Chelsea stepped up another gear. Pedro and Luiz - who had broken up play and run upfield with the ball - combined to give the latter a shot at goal, the Spaniard would have been disappointed not to hit the target. Both Hazard and Pedro began to look unstoppable at this point and it seemed only a matter of time before the first goal came and in the 23rd minute, Pedro made it 1-0. Following a short corner by Fabregas, Willian passed back to Matic who found Hazard hovering on the edge of the box. A quick turn later, Hazard slipped the ball into the feet of Fabregas who was cool and composed in a tight space to find Pedro taking up threatening position on the edge the Bournemouth box. The Spaniard obliged, digging the ball from beneath his feet to produce an outstanding chipped-curler of a shot to beat Boruc in his far post.
Bournemouth reacted well to going down and only 3 minutes later Jack Wilshere picked up the ball just in front of Chelsea’s 18 yard box and was not closed down. He drove into the heart of the defence but was forced to shoot from a wider angle than he would have liked, Courtois was at the end of it comfortably. Bournemouth sustained the pressure and a few minutes later almost had their reward when Matic’s defensive header from a free kick fell nicely to the feet of an unmarked Wilshere around Chelsea’s penalty area. The shot was well struck, but Mr Reliable Azpilicueta was in the right place at the right time to deflect the shot wide. Chelsea coped with the pressure and had the opportunity to double their lead before half time with a Fabregas free kick resulting from a foul on the quick footed Hazard. Fabregas’ effort beat Boruc comfortably but was just inches wide of the cross bar, finding the top of the net instead.
Bournemouth came out looking to get back into the game but the brilliance of Eden Hazard continued to frustrate their defence and in the 48th minute the Belgian was tripped in the box as he skipped away from Simon Francis to earn Chelsea a penalty. This was the second penalty of the blues current campaign and Eden Hazard gave a nice throwback to his superbly cool and calm penalty technique as he put the ball past Boruc to extend Chelsea’s lead. It was his 9th of the season and 50th in the premier league for Chelsea joining the likes of Drogba and Lampard to become only one of 6 Chelsea players ever to score 50 goals in the premier league for Chelsea.
It’s one of football’s cliché’s that a 2-0 lead is the most dangerous of leads (perhaps this is why Conte neglected to make early substitutions) however even though Bournemouth sought for a comeback with increasing intensity and possession, it was Chelsea who looked most likely to add to the score line. The blues were not discomfited sitting back and defending while the remarkable pace and ball control of the front three made for many scintillating counter attack moves, although only one of such moves resulted in a goal and by then the game was already over. Before then however, Bournemouth did carve out one good chance to pull one back. Wilshere played a brilliant pass through to Benik Afobe, who got around David Luiz very comfortably but his shot was met by a superb save from Courtois who was early off his line. As the game wound down, Chelsea brought on Chalobah for Willian to re-energize and sure up the midfield and Ola Aina for Victor Moses. Mitchy Batshuayi was a bit unfortunate not to get a few minutes as he stood on the touchline longingly but the ball would not go out of play. He eventually got in for Eden Hazard after Chelsea’s third goal. Pedro nicked the ball in midfield and ran at Bournemouth’s defenders; decoy runs from Fabregas and Hazard created the space he needed to get a shot on goal. His shot deflected off an attempted block by Steve Cook rather fortunately and trickled into the net leaving Boruc with no chance.
Today’s victory see’s Chelsea 7 points clear of Manchester City who also won their game against Hull to leap frog Liverpool in the standings, though that could change when Liverpool take on Stoke City on Tuesday. Conte also sets a record of being the first manager to win 12 games in his first 15 matches. Chelsea, impressively are the first team in 128 years of English top level football to win 12 games in a row while conceding only 2 goals. Perhaps the only negative on the day was Conte’s late substitutions but particularly in the case of Mitchy Batshuayi. It was painful to watch but undoubtedly more painful for the man himself who would have been hoping to at least get a healthy amount of game time following Diego Costa’s suspension only to run out for barely 5 seconds without touching the ball. Even Djilobodji had it better. There will be better days ahead for the 33 million pound purchase.
The title march advances and the next game will be against Stoke City FC on Saturday. This could be a potentially difficult fixture because of the culture of physical intensity famous with Stoke but also because they have added guile to that under their current manager Mark Hughes.
The following fixture should see both Kante and Costa return to the team. Pedro will be unavailable due to the caution he picked up today and that should see Willian start in his place alongside Costa and Hazard. Less straightforward will be Conte’s choice of which of Matic or Fabregas to drop. Both midfielders were immense against Bournemouth FC but with the expected physicality of Stoke it would not be surprising to see Fabregas start the game on the bench. Make sure to keep up with the London Is Blue Podcast as the team discusses all these and many more from their expert point of view. Top of the league and having a healthy laugh into New Year’s: It’s lit yo!
PS: The general rule of thumb for any Chelsea opposition is, whenever Hazard feels comfortable enough to attempt a rabona shot, it’s probably a bad day.
KEEP THE BLUE FLAG FLYING HIGH #KTBFFH