Amid all the inconsistencies and defensive fragilities, all the bluster and the “bulls—” that has so infuriated Antonio Conte, here was an evening of welcome solidity for Chelsea.
A well-earned victory, a timely clean sheet and three points that keep them within touching distance – just about – of league leaders Manchester City will ensure this is regarded by the champions as a job well done.
Eden Hazard was the match-winner, scoring with a second-half strike after a series of Bournemouth errors, but more pleasing for Conte will be his side’s first clean sheet for more than a month.
This, in short, was more like what we have come to expect from the champions. They were strong in midfield, generally assured at the back and ultimately dismissive of a Bournemouth side still looking to string a run of form together in their third season of top-flight football.
Bournemouth lined up with three at the back, matching the visitors, and both sides managed to cancel each other out in a cagey but feisty start.
The first clear opening fell to Alvaro Morata, but the Spaniard could only slide his shot past the post after Bournemouth goalkeeper Asmir Begovic had gifted the ball to Hazard in front of goal.
That was the trigger for Chelsea to begin turning the screw. Tiemoue Bakayoko, his hair dyed a violent shade of blue, headed straight at Begovic a moment later, before Morata had a goal ruled out for what seemed a harsh offside decision.
Begovic, playing his 200th Premier League game, was called into action again shortly after, producing a flying save as the ever-threatening Morata twisted his way through a couple of nervous Bournemouth challenges.
And yet, despite Chelsea’s dominance, there remained a troubling air of fragility at the back in keeping with the turbulent start to their season. Benik Afobe had a half-chance for the home side, while only a superb defensive header from Cesar Azpilicueta prevented Bournemouth from breaking the deadlock.
Further opportunities followed for Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas, but it all felt a little slow, a little ponderous, as the sides went into half-time with the scores level.
Chelsea needed either a spark of inspiration or a Bournemouth defensive wobble. Barely five minutes into the second half, they had the latter. To Howe’s frustration, it came in three acts. First, Simon Francis fluffed his clearance. Second, he slipped when chasing Hazard and then, in a third and sorry final instalment, Begovic was far too easily beaten by the winger’s near-post shot.
Bournemouth nearly struck back immediately, but Jordon Ibe, introduced in place of the ineffective Jermain Defoe at half-time, saw his drive tipped over the bar.
Chelsea were now in their stride, with Hazard a growing menace for the increasingly dizzy Bournemouth midfield. The Belgian was linking well with Pedro and blazed over when he could have ended this as a contest with half an hour still to play.
There was to be the inevitable late Bournemouth pressure, and another Azpilicueta intervention proved vital, but such was Chelsea’s control that there was never any real likelihood of Bournemouth fighting back.
Source: The Telegraph