It turns out Chelsea Football Club are pretty good. Who knew? Watching from the home stands of Dean Court this weekend I could only applaud the efforts of my side AFC Bournemouth’s at containing them – but ultimately they just had too much quality, and ran out as deserved 3-1 winners.
Ultimately our season won’t be defined by games like the one this weekend, and as one of the smaller sides in the Premier League you simply have to look at your own team’s performance when they play one of the elite sides and ask – could we have done much more? And I don’t think we could have.
In fact I think we’ve made progress when it’s come to playing the sides in the top six. Many times last season we were swatted aside by the big clubs with an ease that was frightening – home games against Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, and Chelsea saw us lose by an aggregate score of 13-2. This campaign we’ve lost to the same trio of clubs 5-1 – and actually picked up a point against Spurs in a combative 0-0.
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Too many times last season we seemed overawed by the bigger sides, or were too naive and open when playing them. We’ve now noticeably upped our game, and have been slightly more solid at the back against them – and improved going forwards.
The football we played at times against Chelsea on Saturday was hugely impressive at times, particularly near the end of the first half and the start of the second. The one touch passing for Josh King’s strike was simple yet devastating, and there were some incredibly slick passages of play after the interval – including one move which saw Ryan Fraser shoot narrowly wide.
Until the unfortunate opening goal – which saw a wayward Diego Costa strike deflected in off the head of Adam Smith – the game was pretty even too. Sadly giving the West London side a goal was the equivalent of waving a red rag at a bull, and Antonio Conte’s side seemed to get pumped up whenever they found the back of the net – the management staff jumping around on the touchline after each of their goals to make sure no complacency crept into their often flawless play.
Some of Chelsea’s football was like watching an elaborate clockwork toy too, with players knowing exactly where all their teammates were in a flexible formation that morphed and flowed in often hypnotic patterns. The fact we could even compete with such a side for such long periods is hugely pleasing.
There were areas where we could have been better this weekend of course – and the fact Eddie Howe seemed slightly disappointed post-match shows how we’re progressing as a club.
One problem we ran into was a lack of concentration when we had the ball around our own area, with some sloppy passing giving Chelsea some golden opportunities to strike. Giving away possession around even Chelsea’s area was dangerous – as proved by Eden Hazard’s breakaway strike – so doing so even closer to our goal is suicidal, and something we need to make sure we cut completely out of our play.
We are also still a little lacking when it comes to mastering the dark arts of the game. For the third goal for example, Marc Pugh could have taken down the Chelsea runner and got a booking for the team before they got near to the edge of our box – and Marcos Alonso subsequently wouldn’t have effectively put the game beyond us with a sumptuous free kick.
As I’ve said we gave it as good as we could against a great side though, and I don’t doubt that my team left everything out on the pitch this weekend. They looked knackered at the end.
One area we’ve arguably not improved on this season are matches against the sides in the lower reaches, but our final five fixtures – where we play sides all currently in the bottom half of the table – means we have a great chance to remedy that. But first, a mildly terrifying trip to North London beckons…