Chelsea overcame a potential banana skin – and tightened their grip on top spot in the Premier League – with an impressive 3-1 victory at Bournemouth. The Blues’ advantage had been cut to four points following Tottenham Hotspur’s thrashing of Watford earlier in the day, but they did not allow the pressure to affect them by making it back-to-back wins.
An own goal from Adam Smith set the visitors on their way before Eden Hazard added a second goal a few minutes later. Joshua King reduced the arrears before half-time with his 10th goal in 11 matches, but Marcos Alonso’s superb free-kick ensured the points travelled back to West London – ending the Cherries’ five-match unbeaten run in the process.
Here are three things we have learnt as Chelsea’s seemingly inexorable march to the title continued….
Pressure not a problem for the champions elect
When Crystal Palace claimed a shock victory at Stamford Bridge last weekend, there appeared to be a chink in the Blues’ armour. But any hope their challengers had has been extinguished through back-to-back victories over Manchester City and Bournemouth. While the former may have presented a sterner test, the Cherries were no pushover. With Spurs having won their sixth straight Premier League match in the lunchtime kick-off, Chelsea could not afford to slip up at the Vitality Stadium.
Their first goal owed to a huge slice of luck, but from that moment on they never looked in serious trouble. They kept Bournemouth at bay when the home side threatened, and picked them off on the counter-attack. Eden Hazard, in particular, was the pick of the bunch. Even though Spurs are not throwing in the towel just yet, five more wins from their remaining seven fixtures will guarantee the title for Antonio Conte’s men. On this evidence, it seems a mere formality.
King goes from strength to strength
The Norwegian striker cost Bournemouth in the region of £1 million when he joined the club from Blackburn Rovers in the summer of 2015. It’s hard to estimate what his value is currently. King’s thunderbolt against Chelsea, which went in via a slight deflection, was his 13th of an impressive campaign. In the enforced absence of Callum Wilson due to injury, King has reveled in becoming Eddie Howe’s go-to frontman.
His partnership with Benik Afobe is also beginning to gel; both netted against Liverpool in midweek. King’s game is about so much more than goals, however. His work-rate is phenomenal and he runs defenders ragged with his movement. He has lightning pace and is deceptively strong. The 25-year-old gave David Luiz a torrid evening at the Vitality Stadium, underlining his rapid improvement as a Premier League footballer. The key for Bournemouth will be hanging on to him in the summer because he is certain to attract interest.
Alonso has become a crucial component
Since joining Chelsea from Fiorentina for £24 million last summer, Alonso has become an influential figure at Stamford Bridge. Conte’s 3-5-2 formation demands a wing-back who can defend and attack – and the Spaniard has fitted the bill. He has the pace and stamina to carry out his manager’s instructions and, as he showed against Bournemouth, is a genuine threat from set pieces. Indeed, Alonso is something of a dead-ball specialist.
His 25-yard free-kick, which rubber-stamped Chelsea’ victory on the south coast, was delightful; managing to get the ball over the wall and down past Artur Boruc with no margin for error. It was his fifth Premier League goal of the season – the third highest by a defender. Alonso had previously spent time on loan at Sunderland and that experience of English football has served him well. He has certainly been an upgrade on Baba Rahman, who was unconvincing last term. He may still be underrated, but Alonso has been exceptional.
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