Saturday was almost the perfect day for Chelsea. Another win, this time at Crystal Palace, yet another clean sheet (the ninth in eleven starts) and a defeat for Arsenal which saw them fall further out of the Premier League title race.
The only blot on the copybook was that yellow card shown to Diego Costa, with the Spaniard now missing the Boxing Day encounter with Bournemouth. He will have to make do with watching Wallace & Gromit and the Muppet Christmas Carol at home while his teammates are slugging it out with the Cherries.
Of course we will miss the presence of our main frontman, who notched his thirteenth league goal of the campaign – the winner, no less – against Palace at the weekend. The fact that Costa has barely missed a minute this season intensifies the anguish.
But the Blues have won without the striker before and we will simply have to do so once again here. It certainly helps that defensively we are back on form, with the Eagles barely getting a sniff of a chance despite bludgeoning twelve in their five prior outings.
This Chelsea side is far from a one-man team, and while Costa takes most of the plaudits for putting the ball in the back of the net lest we forget this is a side with goals throughout. The likes of Eden Hazard, Willian and Pedro are no strangers to getting themselves on the scoresheet, and with Bournemouth conceding 12 goals in their last five starts we are likely to be given a helping hand by this rather charitable defence at a time of year renowned for gift giving.
Chelsea Team News
The headlines are made, of course, by Costa’s absence, and the tactics that Antonio Conte will employ to replace him. Summer signing Michy Batshuayi hasn’t had much of a look-in this term, but he did show in glimpses in substitute appearances earlier in the season that he may just have what it takes to cope with the physical side of English football.
Another option for Conte would be to implement a ‘false nine’ into this system, most likely Pedro. The Spaniard could drop into the number ten position and add another layer of link-up in the Blues’ slow build. In certain circumstances that shape would be welcomed, but against a Bournemouth side that has conceded so liberally of late playing an out-and-out frontman is surely the way to go.
Less headline-making but equally important, in its own way, is the news that N’Golo Kate is also suspended for this clash. The good news on that front is that Cesc Fabregas, who has been playing well of late when replacing Nemanja Matic, can step in. He may lack the legs of Kante but will add greater orchestration from the middle of the park, which should hopefully help to create plenty of chances.
There have been concerns about Eden Hazard’s welfare of late after the Belgian limped off against West Brom a fortnight ago, but he is back in full training now and ready to add significant punch power to this Boxing Day contest.
Chelsea v Bournemouth Head to Head
Bournemouth’s ascent to the Promised Land of the Premier League has only occurred recently, and so the head to head meetings between these two sides have been kept to a minimum.
But the two occasions they met last season were certainly interesting. Th first encounter came at Stamford Bridge in December 2015, when Glenn Murray’s late goal secured the three points for Bournemouth and hammered another substantial nail into the coffin of Jose Mourinho.
But what a difference a few months can make. Under caretaker boss Guus Hiddink, the Blues romped to a 4-1 win on the south coast in April courtesy of goals from Pedro, Willian and Eden Hazard (x2) – staggeringly the Belgians first league goals of the campaign. Antonio Conte will be expecting a similar level of performance from his charges on Monday.
How the Match Will Be Won
That encounter from April is a pretty handy point of reference for Monday’s fixture. We would expect Hazard and one, maybe two, of Willian and Pedro to start, while Chelsea’s kingpin that day was Fabregas, who assisted three of the four goals that the Blues netted. The signs are good.
Without Costa, there will be greater emphasis on keeping a clean sheet given that our firepower at the other end of the pitch is lessened, but that’s not to suggest Conte will change the successful formula that has earned the Blues a six-point cushion. With a trio of 1-0 wins on the spin, it will once again be a case of same old, same old for the Italian gaffer and his players.