Date: 1 September 2018
Eddie today tinkered with a team that had gained seven points in our first three fixtures (our best ever start in the Premier League) and paid the price when we lost 0-2.
Three players were dropped from the team that had drawn against Everton. Fans probably won’t complain about Eddie dropping backwards-passing Surman to the bench; he wasn’t needed for captaincy duties anyway, because Francis was back. Dropping Brooks to the bench was more serious though, as there was no-one to match Fraser’s speed on the opposite flank, hence no-one for Fraser to pass to on the break. (Was Brooks being ‘rested’ in advance of Wales duties?) Daniels, meanwhile, had been taken out of the match day squad entirely – and one hopes that’s because of some slight injury because otherwise he’d done nothing to deserve being left out. More seriously, the system was changed: to 3-4-3. In practice the back three defended very well for long periods of time, and away to Chelsea is arguably one of the matches in which one needs to be more defensive, but this remains a system the players are less familiar with – so it certainly posed a risk.
Bournemouth’s strong defence was, in any case, well matched by Chelsea’s defence, resulting in a 72 minute stalemate. Chelsea had most of the good scoring opportunities during that time, especially in the first half, but Bournemouth’s defence forced them to shoot from distance and fortunately they kept missing the target! Francis played particularly well: a spell on the bench seems to have done him good because I counted at least four occasions when a clearance on his part saved the day.
There were really only two good scoring opportunities for the Cherries during those 72 minutes: a Wilson opportunity in the first half (when a Rico cross from Bournemouth’s left found his knee but the resultant close range ‘shot’ went over the bar), and an Ake chance from a corner kick early in the second half (when he successfully shook off his marker but couldn’t keep the ball down). The opening goal eventually came on the 72nd minute and involved two Chelsea substitutes (we’d made no substitutions at all up to this time), with Giroud and Pedro exchanging passes before Pedro shot past Begovic. 0-1.
We responded almost immediately: Fraser, on the break, charging towards Chelsea’s goal but – on glancing sideways – realising no other player had kept up with him. So he had to take the shot himself and, despite having only the keeper to beat, he shot wide. Now, at last, Eddie made a couple of substitutions. A Chelsea player had commented before the match that we were known to be come-back kings, and despite Chelsea being on top for most off the game there were still fans on both sides thinking we might ‘steal’ a point.
But on the 85th minute Hazard, a player who seems to love scoring against Bournemouth, made it 0-2 with a low drive from within the box. Bournemouth upped their game and totally dominated the closing stages, making their final substitution as well as throwing everything at Chelsea, but it was too little too late and we’d been defeated for the first time this season. Whether Eddie will regret the sweeping changes made to a winning team and winning formula, we’ll never know. Rico had a good league debut, working well with Smith to organise free kicks and linking well with Fraser on the left wing. Lerma’s league debut was more debatable, his hard tackles being impressive and well timed, but his passing and shooting being erratic at times. 0-2.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Francis (8), S Cook (7), Ake (6);
Smith (6), Gosling (6), Lerma (6), Rico (7);
King (6), Wilson (6), Fraser (7)
Francis, S Cook, Ake, Rico;
Ibe, L Cook, Gosling, Fraser;