LONDON: Chelsea may not yet look like a Premier League title contender, but they continue to win like one.
Bournemouth was disciplined and dangerous at Stamford Bridge, but second-half goals from Pedro and Eden Hazard ensured Maurizio Sarri’s men became just the sixth Chelsea side to win their opening four Premier League games of a season; four of those were crowned champions in May.
For the second consecutive week, it was Chelsea’s persistence — not their possession — that proved decisive. Sarri made just one change to the starting XI that edged Newcastle at St James’ Park, with Willian starting on the right of the front three in place of Pedro.
Benching the Spanish international deprived Chelsea of their killer instinct in the final third, a point Pedro made seven minutes after he came on for Willian when he jinked onto his right foot and guided a precise shot into the far corner.
Until that point, Bournemouth had been more consistently dangerous. Callum Wilson twice nearly broke the deadlock after capitalizing on lapses from David Luiz, while Dan Gosling and Nathan Ake spurned glorious chances from dangerous corners.
Chelsea had been frustrated; Luiz’s searching balls narrowly failed to find runners in behind the Bournemouth defence and Marcos Alonso’s bouncing shot clattered off the post. Before Pedro’s introduction, every other shot seemed to find a flying Bournemouth body.
Having taken the lead, though, Chelsea were rarely threatened, though it wasn’t until Hazard exchanged passes with Alonso and fired a low shot beyond Asmir Begovic that Stamford Bridge could exhale.
Sarri will breathe easily at the top of the table for another week, even if Chelsea’s performances are yet to catch up with results.
2. Luiz and Morata are conundrums for Sarri
The best and worst of David Luiz was on show in the first half. His spectacular clipped passes over the Bournemouth defence were Chelsea’s likeliest route to goal until Eddie Howe dropped his men back in response, but the defender’s brain freezes will likely give Sarri fits.
One casual pass to no one gave Wilson the opportunity to run deep into Chelsea’s half unchecked and almost create a shooting chance for the lively Ryan Fraser, only for the recovering N’Golo Kante to bail Luiz out.
Later in the first half, he allowed Wilson to control and lay the ball off before drifting away from the striker as he moved unmarked into the penalty area. Luckily for Chelsea, he could only divert Sergio Rico’s pinpoint cross wide.
It is difficult to imagine better strikers not having a field day against Luiz and you suspect weighing his brilliant ball distribution against his defensive lapses will be a constantly shifting equation for Sarri, particularly as Andreas Christensen waits for his chance on the bench.
At the other end, Alvaro Morata was both underserved and underwhelming. Bournemouth’s deep defence after the opening half-hour granted him few opportunities to find space and he was crowded in the air whenever Chelsea elected to cross.
However, his apparent inability to make himself useful or dangerous in other ways is not what Chelsea had in mind when they set a club transfer record to praise him from Real Madrid last summer.
By contrast, the link play of his replacement Olivier Giroud put Morata to shame and created the decisive opening for Pedro. Giroud is no more the solution to Chelsea’s striker problems, but his superior all-around contribution against stubborn opponents means Sarri faces a big decision.
3. Bournemouth trouble Chelsea yet again
Stamford Bridge has been a happy hunting ground for Bournemouth — they had won two of their previous Premier League visits and triumphed 3-0 last season — but as Howe made clear prior to kick-off, Chelsea presents a very different challenge under Sarri.
But Bournemouth sought to nullify Chelsea with a back five, crowding the central areas and funneling possession to the flanks. The margin for error against a team with Chelsea’s quality is zero, however, and Howe will be desperately disappointed with how much space Pedro and Hazard found for their goals.
Bournemouth’s highest Premier League finish is ninth, achieved in 2016-17. Last season they ended three places lower and with two fewer points, but Howe regarded convincing top-flight consolidation for a third consecutive campaign as their best achievement yet.
This campaign they should be looking up, not down. Beyond the big six — and perhaps Marco Silva’s new-look Everton — there appears to be parity. Free-spending new boys Fulham and Wolves will certainly believe they can finish in the top half, but Bournemouth has the continuity and experience many of their rivals lack.
They can also boast a better manager. As long as Howe remains in charge, there is no reason why Bournemouth should think they have hit their ceiling.