By Paul Lagan
Eden Hazard smashed Chelsea back into the title race with a fine second-half strike as the champions saw off plucky but uninspired AFC Bournemouth 1-0 at the incongruously labelled Vitality Stadium – Dean Court to you and I this evening.
Chelsea leapfrog Arsenal into fourth place but are still nine points adrift of runaway leaders Manchester City.
Hazard’s brilliant left-footed drive from crept inside Asmior Begovic;’s near post and was reward for a dominate display by the west Londoners who should have had several more goals to add to the single strike.
Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte opted to leave skipper Gary Cahill on the bench – with one eye on Tuesday’s Champions League encounter in Italy against Roma, in mind. It was a tactic Bournemouth from necessity but stand-ion skipper Cesar Azpilicueta took the armband and played superbly.
Chelsea started the brighter, Pedro attempted a blaster from 20 yards on nine minutes, which ex-Blues Asmir Begovic, who is playing his 200th Premier League game, watched comfortably as the ball sailed into row Z of the stand beside him.
On the counter-attack, the home side looked dangerous, Benik Afobe, in particular, up front, held the ball up well. Alvaro Morata was at his Fernando Torres worst, 25 minutes in, when, with the goal gaping after Hazard took advantage of a poor kick by Begovic, he somehow slashed the ball wide of goal. It was a terrible miss by the £58million striker from Real Madrid.
Morata had the ball in the net two minutes later but it was adjudged that Cesar Azpilicueta was offside before then Spain striker thumped the ball home from close range. It looked tight and it was possible that Azpilicueta was even level with Cherries defender Nathan Ake.
A fantastic save by Begovic thwarted Morata on 35 minutes, when the striker twisted his defender into the ground just inside the Cherries penalty area. His left-footed shot was blocked for a corner by the Bosnian. Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe replaced Defoe with Jordan Ibe at half-time, Antonio Conte kept the same 11.
It seemed to do the trick as the Blues took the lead on 52 minutes when Morata clipped an inch-perfect ball to Hazard on the left. The Belgium took advantage of a slip by Simon Francis and after one-touch smashed a low, left-footer between Begovic and his near post.
Sub Ibe had an excellent chance to level five minutes later but his edge of the area shot zipped inches over Thibaut Courtois’s crossbar. Junior Stanislas, pulled a groin muscle during a run and was replaced by Marc Pugh on 62 minutes. Afobe went the way of Stanislas, replaced by Callum Wilson. Pedro and Morata were hauled off with 12 minutes left on the clock – on came Danny Drinkwater and Michy Batshuayi as Conte attempted to keep some pace in the side with Morata and Pedro flagging.
Willian soon entered the fray at the expense of goal-scorer hazard on 85 minutes. Deep into added time Courtois was fortunate too be right in the centre of his goal as he snapped up a fierce drive by Steve Cook from the edge of the Chelsea area.
Chelsea: Courtois, Rudiger, Alonso, Fabregas, Morata, Hazard, Pedro, Bakayoko, Zappacosta, Azpilicueta, Luiz
Subs: Caballero, Drinkwater, Willian, Batshuayi, Cahill, Christensen, Ampadu
Bournemouth: Begovic, Francis, Cook, Ake, Surman, Afone,, Daniels Smith, Cook, Defoe, Stanislas
Subs: Boruc, Gosling, Pugh, Arter, Wilson, Mousset, Ibe
Referee: Graig Pawson