Still a 100 per cent record for Chelsea, even though they don’t look 100 per cent a Maurizio Sarri team. That is to be particularly praised after this hard-fought 2-0 win over Bournemouth, although the match seemed to again set out what is likely to be the long-term theme of their entire season: until Sarri manages to impose his way, there are likely to be so many games when their nice passing football just passes the time until the slightest of openings presents itself, because it doesn’t yet have that punch or authority.
In such circumstances, though, a player with such a nose for goal like Pedro is invaluable. He was instrumentally decisive here, coming off the bench to find the bottom corner of the Bournemouth net. He’d found the way to set Chelsea on their way, imposing the end product that his side lacked, before Eden Hazard late on added a gloss to the score that the performance didn’t quite deserve.
Still, Chelsea had done enough on the day, and that is more than enough in a period when you’re trying to impose a whole new way of playing. This club knows from the past how these things can very easily go another way, as could have been the case on the day with some of Bournemouth’s chances.
And this is the thing with Sarri’s system so far, and how it is nowhere near 100 per cent set. There are so many times when it feels like he is only 70-80 per cent there, with the remaining 20-30 per cent to be sorted all in the opposition penalty box.
Chelsea were admittedly facing a Bournemouth side much more withdrawn and willing to pack that box than usual, even if it was not to the levels of Newcastle United last week. Eddie Howe’s side were prepare to break with a bit more abandon, as illustrated when Joshua King burst forward only for N’Golo Kante – of course – to rescue the situation with a typical surge back. It wasn’t the only time King threatened with a burst, nor the only time Kante was required.
Such counters still came because of the more general pattern of the game, which was Chelsea weaving pretty patterns until they get to the edge of the Bournemouth area, whereupon they found it so frustratingly congested.
That was exactly why the home side’s most prominent attacking moments from the first half were penalty shouts that came from the ball ricocheting around the box and so many red-and-black bodies, and Marcos Alonso hitting the post from the edge of the area after a crowded-out Hazard had no option but to go outside it just when the sliver of an opening had seemed to present itself. This was the theme of this game, anyway: Chelsea’s wait to find a way through.
The problem in such games is that the proactivity required for that kind of patience will gradually leave more and more gaps at the back, and Sarri’s side were given another warning before the hour. After yet another King break that required yet another Kante intervention, albeit this time a foul, Bournemouth won a corner that saw them further test an obvious tactic of putting as much pressure on Kepa Arrizabalaga as possible.
It was former Chelsea defender Nathan Ake often at the centre of it, but it this time saw him presented with a big chance right in the centre of the six-yard box. The 23-year-old could however only put it high over the bar. Another former Chelsea player in Asmir Begovic had looked sturdy at the other end, standing up to any shots that actually came through to him in the first half, and then doing well to divert a ball across goal in the second.
Sarri had by then seen enough and realised he needed to change something. Olivier Giroud came on for Alvaro Morata, and Pedro for Willian. It worked. On 72 minutes, Pedro found that opening, as he picked his spot with a swerving shot. The talk around Cobham is already that he could be Chelsea’s version of Dries Mertens under Sarri, a pacy scorer who still goes to another level under this coach.
Bournemouth still had good opportunities in the gaps between Chelsea passes, like when Ryan Fraser was put clean through only to so badly blaze his shot wide when it seemed set up for one of those curlers into the corner. They just didn’t much punch themselves, leaving Hazard to show how much end product he’s got. The Belgian star fired the ball into the corner of the net on 85 minutes, to make it two assists and two goals in four games, and this without yet looking anywhere his potential best. Much like his team.
It both feels like there’s more to come and more problems to come, even though they’ve done all they can for the moment: win every match.
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