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Three talking points as Chelsea overturned Bournemouth at Vitality Stadium

Rob Meech

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Eden Hazard’s second-half strike was enough to separate the sides as Chelsea registered an important victory over struggling Bournemouth.

The Belgium international fired past former team-mate Asmir Begovic in the 51st-minute to keep the Blues in the top four. The Cherries had set out their stall to be hard to beat, but Chelsea always seemed capable of scoring and deservedly broke the deadlock early in the second half.

Bournemouth were unable to find an equaliser and succumbed to their seventh defeat in 10 matches, which kept them in the bottom three.

Here are three talking points…

Eden Hazard continues his scoring streak against Bournemouth

After missing the early stages of the season through injury, the Belgian is back to his scintillating best. Hazard was dominant against Bournemouth and his movement and technical ability provided the home side with plenty of problems. He enjoys playing against the Cherries and his decisive contribution was his fifth goal in as many appearances against Eddie Howe’s men.

No keeper likes being beaten at his near post and in retrospect, Begovic will think he could have done better. He appeared to be wrong-footed by the direction of Hazard’s shot. If Chelsea have still have designs on retaining their title and competing deep into the latter stages of the Champions League, then keeping Hazard fit and firing will be crucial.

Cherries’ defensive formation leaves them toothless in attack

Last season, Bournemouth were accused of being too naive against the top teams and regularly found themselves out of matches after 30 minutes. Howe has clearly been mindful of that. As against Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City, the Cherries boss set up with five at the back in an attempt to blunt their opponents.

While his side have conceded fewer goals compared with last season, they have still lost all four. And their defensive set-up has left them impotent in attack. Against Chelsea, Bournemouth never looked like scoring. In fact, it took until stoppage-time for them to register a shot on target. Howe needs to find the right balance between defence and attack, because six goals in 10 outings is a poor return.

Antonio Conte answers his critics in typical style

It seemed baffling to many that Antonio Conte had to answer questions about his job in his pre-match Press conference, amid speculation that Carlo Ancelotti could return to his former club following his sacking at Bayern Munich. But such is the nature of the Premier League that, despite being the reigning champions, the Italian is not assured of his position.

Yes, Chelsea have suffered a couple of disappointing results this season, but with 19 points from 10 matches and qualification for the knockout stages of the Champions League looking probable, talk of a crisis at Stamford Bridge is wide of the mark. Conte’s typically passionate celebration at full-time against Bournemouth underlined his commitment to the club.

Rob is a freelance writer, specialising in football, who previously worked as a sports journalist at the Dorset Echo. A long-standing AFC Bournemouth supporter, Rob can often be found on the terraces at the Vitality Stadium. Follow him on Twitter - @RobMeech

Bournemouth

Huddersfield Town 4-1 Bournemouth: Alex Pritchard steals plaudits after running the show

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from the John Smith’s Stadium as Huddersfield Town took a huge leap in the race for survival with a 4-1 victory over Bournemouth.

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

Huddersfield Town produced a four-star performance to brush aside Bournemouth and move out of the Premier League relegation zone.

Junior Stanislas quickly cancelled out Alex Pritchard’s seventh-minute opener, but from that moment it was one-way traffic as the Terriers showed their bite on a freezing afternoon in Yorkshire.

A Steve Cook own goal made it 2-1 at half-time before Steve Mounie and a stoppage-time penalty from Rajiv van la Parra completed the drubbing.

Huddersfield climbed to 17th as a result of this much-needed victory, while Bournemouth’s excellent recent form came to an abrupt halt with their first defeat of 2018.

Here are three talking points…

Huddersfield breathe new life into survival bid

Boss David Wagner had highlighted his side’s upcoming run of fixtures as crucial to their ambitions of avoiding relegation back to the Championship.

On the back of five consecutive defeats, Huddersfield had free-fallen into the drop-zone.

Although the win over Manchester United will take some beating in the eyes of the fans, given their predicament this was arguably their most important three points of the campaign.

It was a crushing triumph and one that the Terriers fully deserved.

Yes, they caught the visitors on a bad day, but much of that was due to the nature of Huddersfield’s display.

They gave Bournemouth no time on the ball to play their natural passing game and took their chances when they came along.

Especially from set-pieces, Wagner’s men looked dangerous and exploited the Cherries’ weakness in the air.

The bottom half of the table remains incredibly congested, but this result gives Huddersfield genuine hope that survival is possible.

Bournemouth’s unbeaten run comes to a crashing end

Entering this match at the top of the form table, this was Bournemouth’s worst result of the season.

From the first whistle they were out-battled by a Huddersfield side that were fighting for their lives.

Perhaps an air of complacency had surfaced following the Cherries’ unbeaten sequence, which had stood at seven games and included victories over Chelsea and Arsenal.

Talk of qualifying for the Europa League can now be parked to one side.

Despite being in 10th position, Bournemouth are not assured of survival just yet.

Boss Eddie Howe will back his troops to get the three wins they need to reach the 40-point mark, but this was a reminder that nothing can be taken for granted in the Premier League.

He will be thoroughly bemused by this showing.

It was a day to forget for the Cherries and their dedicated supporters, who had left in the very early hours to embark on the long journey north for this lunch-time kick-off.

Pritchard brings ingenuity to the Terriers’ ranks

Although Huddersfield’s win was a by-product of a real team effort, one player that deserves special praise is new recruit Pritchard.

Signed from Norwich City in the January window, he ran the show in midfield, making the Terriers tick with crisp passing.

Pritchard opened the scoring in the early exchanges with a well-taken finish for his first ever Premier League goal, at the seventh attempt.

He had previously played in the top-flight with Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion.

There is always a risk attached to any new signing from a lower division, but Pritchard had demonstrated enough class for Norwich to indicate he would be able to make the step-up.

The 24-year-old will face tougher challenges in his midfield role, but he has brought a touch of guile and class to Huddersfield.

Pritchard’s teasing run that induced the foul for a penalty in added-time underlined his capability to make things happen.

Wagner will hope it is a positive sign for the run-in.

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Bournemouth

What is behind Bournemouth’s dramatic upturn in form?

Bournemouth fans would have sitting uncomfortably throughout the opening half of the season but, in typical fashion, Eddie Howe has turned the tide for the south coast club.

Rob Meech

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Bournemouth
Photo: Reuters

On Christmas Day, Bournemouth were sitting in the relegation zone.

Winless in more than a month, their slide from the relative comfort of mid-table had been alarming.

The doubters were chirping and the pressure mounting. Was this the beginning of the end of the Cherries’ unexpected stint in the Premier League?

Fast-forward six weeks and the landscape is altogether different.

Bournemouth, in ninth position, are on their longest ever unbeaten Premier League streak, currently standing at seven games.

In fact, they currently top the form table.

In their past six matches, the Cherries have claimed 14 points – the highlight undoubtedly being their stunning 3-0 triumph over Chelsea, which Eddie Howe described as the ‘best result’ since his appointment.

It has been an astonishing turnaround and one for which Howe deserves immense credit. Modest as ever, however, he would accept it only begrudgingly.

Despite increasing criticism from pundits who urged him to revise his philosophy or risk relegation back to the Championship, from where they were promoted as champions in 2015, the 40-year-old has steadfastly stuck to the approach that has brought him such unprecedented success.

Many managers may have panicked and gambled on new signings during the January transfer window, but Howe resisted, with a couple of outgoings the only business done on deadline day.

He has always favoured a tight-knit squad over a bloated one and improving the players at his disposal, rather than relying on recruitment.

Perhaps this stems from when the club was cash-strapped during his formative years as boss and he had no alternative.

Despite being the only Premier League club not to strengthen their resources, Bournemouth’s progress has been unchecked.

The recent sequence of results has not been plain sailing, though.

Controversy kick-started the run when Callum Wilson equalised against West Ham United on Boxing Day, despite strong suspicions of handball.

Other late goals against Everton and Arsenal have underlined the character in the squad.

In previous seasons, the Cherries’ fast starts were often the prelude to collapses in the final stages, but no longer is that the case.

In light of Chelsea’s recent troubles, Bournemouth’s performance in that game has largely and unfairly been overlooked. Victory was no fluke.

The visitors were magnificent and not flattered by the three-goal margin of victory.

Intricate passing and movement, solid defending and predatory finishing were all on display at Stamford Bridge, which amounted to make the reigning champions look very ordinary.

Although his philosophy has remained unaltered, a tactical switch has paid dividends.

Howe experimented with three at the back earlier this season, especially against the top sides when he felt outnumbered in midfield.

This has evolved into a 3-4-3 that maximises Bournemouth’s strength of pace down the flanks, while also offering more protection in central defence, an area in which they have traditionally been vulnerable.

By luck or judgement, Howe has identified his preferred front three of Junior Stanislas, Jordon Ibe and Callum Wilson.

Stanislas is prone to muscle strains but is a creative fulcrum.

Ibe’s transformation from the timid, indecisive player of last season whose confidence looked shot has been remarkable. He now has more assists than any other Cherries player this term.

With eight goals to his name, Wilson is the club’s leading scorer and has benefited from Jermain Defoe’s enforced absence.

After suffering two cruciate knee ligament injuries, Wilson is back to his fearsome best and speculation of an England call-up is growing.

Now seven points clear of the drop-zone, three wins from their final 12 outings should guarantee Bournemouth extend their Premier League stay for at least one more campaign.

As ever, Howe, who has been nominated for the January manager of the month award, will not get carried away.

His focus will be devoted entirely to Sunday’s televised encounter away to Huddersfield Town.

Win or lose, one thing is for sure; Howe’s demeanour and belief in his methods will not change.

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Bournemouth

Bournemouth 2-1 Stoke City: Three talking points from the Vitality Stadium

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from the Vitality Stadium as Bournemouth recorded a 2-1 comeback victory over relegation rivals Stoke City.

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

Bournemouth extended their Premier League unbeaten run to seven matches as they came from behind to complete the double over Stoke City.

Following their tremendous victory over Chelsea in midweek, the Cherries started with a hangover and conceded in the fifth minute when Xherdan Shaqiri – one of the smallest men on the pitch – headed past Asmir Begovic.

The hosts looked transformed in the second half and equalised through Joshua King on 70 minutes. The Cherries then continued to dominate and struck the knockout blow when Lys Mousset nodded in his first top-flight goal for the club.

This was Stoke’s first defeat under new manager Paul Lambert as they slipped back into the relegation zone.

Here are three talking points…

Cherries’ character again comes to the fore

A feature of Bournemouth’s impressive recent form, which has seen them climb out of the drop-zone and up to the dizzying heights of ninth place, has been their ability to overturn a deficit.

It started on Boxing Day when Callum Wilson’s controversial injury-time goal rescued a point against West Ham United.

Twice they came from behind to earn a draw with Brighton & Hove Albion on New Year’s Day and now in their past two home matches, the Cherries have recovered from an early setback to register victories over Arsenal and Stoke.

In their previous two seasons in the Premier League, Bournemouth were renowned for making fast starts, but they often struggled to hold on to a lead.

Eddie Howe will be pleased with his side’s never-say-die attitude, particularly at such a crucial stage of the campaign.

Only a month ago, the Cherries were in real danger of being caught up in a relegation dogfight. Now, with 15 points from their past seven games, that threat has been alleviated.

Lambert suffers his first setback as Stoke boss

With four points from his first two games in the hot-seat, Lambert had made an impressive start following the demise of his predecessor, Mark Hughes.

His troops started well again on the south coast, as Shaqiri was somehow left unmarked to head home a cross from new signing Badou Ndiaye.

The Potters pressed their opponents high up the pitch and gave them little space or time on the ball, but perhaps their endeavours contributed to a sloppy second-half performance.

The visitors retreated under intense pressure from Bournemouth, who capitalised with two goals inside nine second-half minutes to claim all three points.

With the lower half of the table incredibly tight, this was a real blow to Stoke’s ambitions.

Victory would have seen them climb as high as 14th, but instead they have plummeted into the bottom three on goal difference. Currently, Stoke are one of three teams locked on 24 points.

The battle for survival is going down to the wire.

Substitutes make the difference for Bournemouth

A hamstring injury to Steve Cook in the 13th minute disrupted Howe’s plans.

With his side already 1-0 down, the Bournemouth manager decided to unleash striker King instead of replacing like-for-like.

This prompted a change in formation, with the hosts ditching the 3-4-3 system that worked so well against Chelsea in favour of a 4-4-2, with Ryan Fraser dropping into an unfamiliar right-back position.

The results were not immediate and the Cherries struggled to adapt, with Stoke enjoying large spells of possession. However, the second half was one-way traffic as the hosts peppered Jack Butland’s goal.

King netted his fourth of the campaign after finding himself in space before Mousset, another substitute, scored for the first time in the Premier League since his move from his native France in the summer of 2016.

For Howe, the result was justification for his early tactical change and he deserves immense credit. Modest as always, he will deflect it to his players.

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