Hazard keeps Chelsea in touch
Amid all the inconsistencies and defensive fragilities, all the bluster and “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 rated a job well done.
Eden Hazard was the match-winner, 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.
“For sure, we played a good game,” the Chelsea manager said. “For a big part of the game we played very well, with maturity and good possession, and tried to create and find the right ball between the lines. We created many chances to score.”
A minor concern will be that only one of those chances was taken, but Conte will not have sleepless nights if his defence remains as resolute as this.
Bournemouth were limited to a handful of half-chances and nothing more, with manager Eddie Howe admitting that his side were “too passive”. Their struggles continue as they linger in a perilous 19th place in the league.
That will not change if they continue to defend like they did for Hazard’s goal, which played out in three painful acts for the home side.
First, defender Simon Francis fluffed a clearance, allowing Hazard in. Then Francis slipped when trying to make amends. And then, in a third and sorry final instalment, Asmir Begovic was far too easily beaten by Hazard’s near-post shot. To make matters worse, it had all started with a Bournemouth goal-kick. “It was not just a goalkeeping error,” said Howe. “It was a really poor goal. They had a lot of the ball, we plugged gaps and threw our bodies in the way, but to then concede from our goalkick, with a couple of errors thrown in, was hugely disappointing.”
Chelsea should have taken the lead long before then. Alvaro Morata twice went close, while both Cesc Fabregas and Tiemoue Bakayoko wasted further opportunities before the break.
“We could have been more clinical in the first half,” Conte said. “In this type of game, you must be able to kill the game. If you keep the result in the balance, you risk drawing in the end.”
For all Chelsea’s profligacy, there remained little prospect of Bournemouth equalising. Jordon Ibe went closest with a long-range strike, while defender Steve Cook could arguably have done better with a stoppage-time effort, but that was all the home side were able to muster.
On target: Eden Hazard steps up to score the winner for Antonio Conte’s side