BOURNEMOUTH — Chelsea will not be stopped.
The Blues went to Bournemouth and won 3-1 on Saturday, regaining their seven-point lead atop the Premier League table after Tottenham had momentarily cut it to four.
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Antonio Conte‘s men dealt with the pressure piled on them by Spurs and breezed past (in the end) a stylish yet leaky Bournemouth side to stay on track for the PL title with seven games to go.
Here’s what we learned from a sun-drenched evening down on the South Coast.
BIG BOYS DELIVER
Eden Hazard scored a sublime goal to put Chelsea 2-0 up at the Vitaliy Stadium. N'Golo Kante snapped into tackles and even had his first-ever Premier League assist. Thibaut Courtois made a stunning save early on to deny David Luiz scoring a horrendous own goal.
All of the stars who needed to step up for Chelsea did.
Bournemouth didn’t play badly, far from it. They created chances with Benik Afobe‘s shot hitting the inside of the post and coming out, plus Jack Wilshere (more on him further down) seeing plenty of the ball and creating problems for Chelsea.
Had Luiz’s nervous clearance just a minute into the game flown in, Chelsea would’ve been in for an uncomfortable encounter.
With the seven-point gap to second-place Tottenham regained for now, throughout the encounter on the south coast of England Chelsea’s fans sung”Tottenham Hotspur, we’re waiting for you!”
Spurs are waiting for a Chelsea slip up but it appears the Blues will keep doing just enough to grind out wins. The magic number of wins now stands at five and it seems like Chelsea cannot be stopped. If Spurs beat West Brom next Saturday in the early game and Chelsea slip up at Manchester United next Sunday then the title race could be back on. For now, it seems over.
Diego Costa had one of those days against Bournemouth. He’s having them a lot lately.
Chelsea’s Spanish striker has now scored just four goals in his last 13 appearances for the Blues and his slack hold up play, failure to take chances and constant tumbles seem to be infuriating Conte.
It’s true that Costa’s sublime turn set up Chelsea’s opener as he sliced his shot and it deflected off Adam Smith and in. But apart from that, a few decent bits of hold up play were the only noticeable contributions he made. Costa missed a sitter in the 55th minute as Alonso’s perfect cross from the left flank found him at the near post but he completely missed his kick. His manager stood on the sidelines holding his head in disbelief. He’s been doing that a lot lately.
With Hazard having four of Chelsea’s last seven goals in the PL, he’s carrying this team offensively. Costa isn’t contributing much and seems low on confidence following the saga which rumbled on at the end of January amid reports of a back injury, training ground bust up and a big-money move to China.
It sounds slightly harsh to say after Costa has scored 49 goals in 81 PL games for Chelsea over the past three seasons, but perhaps Conte will perhaps be eager to move him on this summer if the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Antoine Griezmann and Alvaro Morata do become available.
Bournemouth always try to play through midfield, no matter the opposition or the obstacles before them. In midfield they have a player capable of controlling the tempo of any game on the planet: Jack Wilshere.
This was perhaps one of Wilshere’s best games in a Bournemouth shirt as he is now back in the starting lineup consistently and is at the hub of the Cherries midfield.
With his future still uncertain about next season — he’ll likely return to his parent club Arsenal but Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe wants him to stay permanently — Wilshere at least seems to be back to his best.
Flashes of brilliance throughout this game reminded us of the quality the England international possesses.
In the first half his sublime ball through to Ryan Fraser was followed up by a flicked ball with the outside of his right boot to play in Josh King for a breakaway. In the second half Wilshere clipped a ball down the line from an impossible body angle which picked out Afobe. He has the deft touches to confuse the most talented defenders and is able to caress the ball with ease, yet he does take chances in dangerous areas sometimes but is ironing out those mistakes.
Now, as has always been the case, he just needs to do it consistently and stay injury free. The next seven games will be huge for Wilshere if he can get back into the England squad this summer and then set himself up for a big season with Arsenal, Bournemouth or whoever in 2017-18.
At the age of 25 we have to stop talking about Wilshere’s potential. His class is undoubted. We just need to see it more.