Chelsea maintain their intensity and focus against Bournemouth to further squeeze the life out of this title race

AFC Bournemouth 1 Chelsea 3: An own-goal as well as efforts from Eden Hazard and Marcos Alonso at the Vitality Stadium saw Chelsea maintain their seven-point lead at the top

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The Independent Football

A rampant Tottenham Hotspur may continue to dream of a title challenge but, for an extremely resolute Chelsea, that is little more than a mirage.

The prospect of Antonio Conte lifting the Premier League trophy in his first season in England becomes ever more real, and the Italian can now lift up just one hand to signify the five wins his side need for him to do it, after this 3-1 win over Bournemouth.

That is what is so impressive about this Chelsea, even if they are not as impressive as they were around October. They just keep motoring. They show that intensity and focus that their manager has spent so long talking about it.

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Conte's side just keep on winning (Getty)

Consider two key facts around this game. Diego Costa has stopped scoring, and that back-line has stopped keeping clean sheets. Had you been told that around December or January, you would have thought Chelsea are in real trouble, but the opposite is true.

They keep winning. They keep leading. They keep going.

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Costa was below his best - but it didn't matter (Getty)

It was all the more respectable here because Bournemouth were far from the kind of soft touch that might have been anticipated earlier in the season, with Harry Arter in particular putting in some industrial-strength challenges, and were more than willing to go at Chelsea in the way they did to Liverpool and Manchester United.

It was probably precisely that willingness, however, that initially made it that bit easier for Conte’s side. They had so much space to play in behind, as illustrated when David Luiz so simply but so excellently picked out the returning Victor Moses with an arched pass out to the right on 14 minutes.

Moses charged through and fed Costa and, if it summed up the kind of non-scoring run he is in that he badly miskicked, it summed up Chelsea’s run of form that the ball still found its way into the net having deflected off Adam Smith.

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Luiz helped to dictate play from deep (Getty)

That was lucky but the next strike just two minutes later was luscious. With Bournemouth again playing so high, N’Golo Kante was left to lift the ball over.

Hazard took it down beautifully before almost falling down himself, but still had the grace to so elegantly send it into the corner from an angle.

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Hazard is congratulated after scoring (Getty)

Again, everything was just falling for the champions elect, like when Benik Afobe’s brilliant volley on 29 minutes hit the post, hit Thibaut Courtois and still went out.

To be fair to both sides, Chelsea did still have to stand up a stern Bournemouth response, as Eddie Howe’s side creditably refused to roll over despite the scoreline. They probably justifiably felt they didn’t deserve to be two down, and made sure they weren’t just before half-time when Joshua King’s shot deflected off David Luiz and into the top corner.

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Howe's side battled hard (Getty)

Bournemouth were back in the game, and Jack Wilshere was looking back on his game. The on-loan midfielder played a series of divine passes that so often seemed like they could open up Chelsea’s defence, and one of them should really have seen Ryan Fraser score, only for him to blaze wide.

If Bournemouth weren’t going to take chances like that, though, it meant they weren’t going to take anything from this game. Chelsea may have stopped keeping clean-sheets, but they haven’t stopped expertly shutting down games, as was precisely the case here.

In fact, one reason why they are the best team in the country is because they are by far the best at controlling the shape and pace of a game.

It as if by just moving the whole side up a few yards like a phalanx they can bend the match to their will. So, Bournemouth continued to have a lot of the ball, but could do absolutely nothing with it. There were just no avenues, no openings.

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Alonso curled home a stunning free-kick (Getty)

There was, however, another Chelsea goal. On 68 minutes, Marcos Alonso stepped up for a free-kick at the edge of the box after Costa had been taken down, and supremely curled the ball into the top corner.

There looks no prospect of Tottenham cornering Chelsea, no matter how good Mauricio Pochettino’s side get. The leaders are just too good at seeing games through, and look fully ready to see this title run-in out.

Others may dream. Chelsea show the hard reality of how to win titles.

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