Monday 23 April 2018

Ruthless Chelsea take another step towards their coronation

Bournemouth 1 Chelsea 3

Chelsea striker Diego Costa attempts a shot on goal in his side’s comfortable victory against Bournemouth. Photo: PA Wire
Chelsea striker Diego Costa attempts a shot on goal in his side’s comfortable victory against Bournemouth. Photo: PA Wire

Sam Wallace

The last act of the day but still the most important as far as the title race is concerned, because every victory for Antonio Conte's team is one step closer to Chelsea's fifth Premier League title in the Italian's debut season in English football.

They faced Bournemouth with Tottenham's demolition of Watford having closed the gap, and once more Conte's league leaders showed themselves well capable of dealing with the pressure of being at the top of the table. Since the shock of defeat at home by Crystal Palace last Saturday, Conte's team have taken six points from two games and re-established themselves as the side that refuses to give up their lead.

Chelsea are on their way to giving Antonio Conte the perfect start to his Chelsea career. Photo: Getty Images
Chelsea are on their way to giving Antonio Conte the perfect start to his Chelsea career. Photo: Getty Images

There are seven games to play for Conte's team and seven points separating them from Spurs, which means that five more wins will do it for Chelsea. They could afford to lose to Manchester United next Sunday and still win the title with a game to spare; they could yet break the club's own Premier League points record of 95, achieved under Jose Mourinho in 2005.

For periods this was a good Bournemouth performance, especially in the latter stages of the first half when Josh King made it 2-1 and they looked like they could perhaps get back into the game. But there is a rhythm to the way that Chelsea take grip of a match and this one was no different, especially in the way in which Conte's side took the chances that fell to them.

Adam Smith was unfortunate with a first-half own goal, before Eden Hazard bewitched Artur Boruc on the counter-attack for the second. Eventually it was the quality which told, and Marcos Alonso's free-kick with 68 minutes played sealed the result. It was an unsaveable strike and proof that, when the pressure is on, Conte has players who can deliver.

The travelling support sang "Tottenham Hotspur, we're waiting for you" presumably a nod to the FA Cup semi-final later this month.

Chelsea's Diego Costa and Eden Hazard celebrate after the Belgian scores against Bournemouth.
Chelsea's Diego Costa and Eden Hazard celebrate after the Belgian scores against Bournemouth.

Going behind to this Chelsea team is a curse on any opponent, all of whom find themselves trying to break down a midfield that moves as one piece, suffocating the ambitions of those up against it.

A tough afternoon for Bournemouth, who were excellent at times, none more than King, the former United academy boy who looked well-matched even against the international defenders in Chelsea's side. But by the end, Eddie Howe's team had run out of ideas and looked completely discouraged.

Even against a team as well-drilled as Bournemouth, Chelsea have made a virtue of punishing mistakes ruthlessly and that was what they did so effectively in scoring the opening two goals.

The first was a strange affair. Costa's sliced shot was going well wide but crept inside Artur Boruc's post after clipping Smith's head as he slid in to block.

Shortly afterwards, N'Golo Kante's pass over the top and into the left channel set Hazard free to run at goal. The problem for any goalkeeper trying to second guess a player so majestically adept with the ball on either foot is what side Hazard is going to attempt to pass you on. Boruc bought his first offering, a perfectly plausible shape-up to strike it with his right, before the winger switched the ball on to his left and left him wondering where he had gone.

Hazard rolled the ball into the net and Chelsea looked well set, but one of the virtues of this Bournemouth side is a refusal to get too downhearted when things go against them. Afobe hit the post when he took a Charlie Daniels cross first time and then, three minutes before the break, they scored. It was a fine counter-attack, much the same as those Chelsea had sprung. From Fraser to Afobe, the ball went right to King, who has all the attributes for a fine striker and hit his shot first time. With the benefit of a flick off David Luiz, who was again in the wrong position to make a proper tackle, the ball eluded Thibaut Courtois' left hand.

The free-kick from which Alonso scored was awarded for Steve Cook's bad tackle on Costa. Alonso's left foot swept it over the wall and into the top corner, with Boruc once again helpless to do anything about it. That was the story of Bournemouth's afternoon.

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