Thursday, 6 April 2017

Bournemouth v Chelsea Match Preview (08/04/17): Cherries Ready to be Popped?

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We must not get carried away of course, but you just feel like the 2-1 win over Manchester City on Wednesday evening was a real watershed moment as the Blues sneak towards the Premier League title.

The omens were strong on Wednesday: Eden Hazard’s opener took a wicked deflection, his second was a fortunate rebound after Willy Caballero saved his spot-kick, and then Vincent Kompany hit the bar in the second period as City pressed hard for an equaliser. The bottom line is that we won, took the three points and maintained that seven point cushion to Spurs in second.

It was a fraught encounter for Chelsea fans though, with their side conceding for the eighth straight game after earlier in the season keeping ten clean sheets in twelve starts. Conte was visibly knackered in his interviews after the game. “My look is tired because I feel like I played it tonight with my players. I suffered with them,” he told the BBC.

“But we must be pleased because we beat a strong team - the best team in the league. I think they have a great coach - the best in the world. To win this type of game at this time of the season is great.”

It wasn’t vintage Chelsea by any means, and even though there are concerns defensively they showed some of the other attributes that a Premier League champion must exhibit: resilience, character and dogged determination. If you can win when not at your best, you’ll always have a chance of being successful.

Conte’s men will need some of those traits this week against Bournemouth, a side who have improved greatly in recent weeks to find themselves on a run of five unbeaten. They have taken points from Old Trafford and Anfield, and could and probably should have ran Southampton off the park in their last home game; hitting the post and missing a penalty on the way to a 0-0 draw.

But you sense the stars are aligning for Chelsea at the moment; this is just one more obstacle for them to overcome.

Chelsea Team News

As expected, Conte opted for a pragmatic approach with his team selection against the Citizens, and brought in an extra defender (Kurt Zouma) while pushing Cesar Azpilicueta forward to wing back.

That could be the template this week too, with reports suggesting that Moses could require minor surgery on his toe injury that would keep him sidelined for another fortnight. His absence is a bit of a headache as Conte doesn’t possess a natural replacement at right-wing back, meaning he has an attacking option (Pedro) and a more defensive one (Azpilicueta). With Bournemouth being in reasonable fettle, it is the more pragmatic approach that suits.

What was interesting about the City game was that Conte hauled off Zouma at half time. He wasn’t playing badly, but the Italian manager just wanted a bit more stability in the middle of the park. So Nemanja Matic came on, Cesc Fabregas drifted forward into the inside right channel and Pedro switched to wing back.

It will be interesting to see how Conte plays it this week with those two options in mind. He has no other injury worries to consider, fortunately.

Bournemouth vs Chelsea Head to Head

Bournemouth made their leap into the upper echelons of English football quite late, and so their first meeting with Chelsea didn’t come until 1988.

All-in-all there have been eight encounters between these two down the years, with the Blues taking the honours in six, the Cherries two and there has yet to be a draw.

Let’s zero in on the three Premier League fixtures which have taken place since December 2015. Chelsea hold a 2-1 head to head lead, although their two victories – 4-1 and 3-0 – have been resounding in nature. What they would give for a repeat on Saturday.

How the Match Will Be Won

A feature of Bournemouth’s season has been goals at both ends of the pitch. Their tally of 44 goals scored is more than any other side outside the top six, while only three teams in the division have shipped more than the Cherries.

So a sort of risk and reward strategy will suit Chelsea well, and really the front three of Hazard, Costa and Pedro should be able to combine to break through this Bournemouth regard. The midfield pairing of Matic and Kante can shut down the middle of the park – there’s always the option of bringing on Fabregas if extra creativity is needed.

Bournemouth’s real attacking spark comes down the flanks, with two of Ryan Fraser, Jordan Ibe and Josh King likely to get the nod here. They possess genuine pace, and while their end product remains in question Alonso and Azpilicueta will need to be on their guard.

With Callum Wilson injured, Benik Afobe will lead the line for the Cherries and while he can be slightly wasteful in front of goal, he did bag in the midweek draw at Liverpool.

But we really like Chelsea here. They should win the battle in the middle of the park and our front three must be excited about taking on one of the Premier League’s most porous defences. Antonio Conte said this week the Blues need 18 more points to secure the title; that is an exaggerated amount, but nonetheless three more to the tally would be welcome here.

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