The EFL Cup offered up an all-Premier League clash on Wednesday evening as Chelsea hosted Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge. The two sides enjoyed vastly differing fortunes in their last games, with the Blues beating Southampton 1-0, with Bournemouth were hammered 4-0 by Liverpool.
Regardless of their league form though, both sides knew that one good performance across 90 minutes could send them through to a semi-final, and with the pressure mounting on every side at this stage, strange things can happen, meaning the underdog always has a chance to win the whole competition.
Despite being near the relegation zone in the Premier League, Bournemouth gave as good as they got on the night as they looked to outdo Chelsea. However, it was the hosts that struck first as Willian finished off a flowing team move. Bournemouth were then hit with a killer blow as Jermain Defoe went off injured, which saw their most potent striker withdrawn.
Defoe’s opposite number Michy Batshuayi was given a rare chance to shine, but he failed to make the most of finding time and space in the box on a number of occasions. It seemed as though this would prove costly as Dan Gosling curled the ball home, but Alvaro Morata displayed why he is the number one striker at Chelsea, as he managed to squeeze the winning goal home with only seconds to go. Despite Bournemouth pressing late on, Chelsea were able to see out a 2-1 victory.
From the triumph for the Blues, what five things did we learn?
Chelsea open the scoring with an outstanding team move
It was a moment of pure magic from Chelsea and it hammered home the difference between the two sides. The Blues went into the game thinking that Bournemouth would look to defend deep, absorb the pressure and hit them on the counter-attack, but it was quite the opposite.
Bournemouth gave as good as they got in the first-half and their confidence was not that of a side that is 16th in the Premier League. However, it was the Blues that drew first blood, and what a goal it was. Michy Batshuayi played an insightful reverse ball towards Kenedy, who backheeled the ball into Cesc Fabregas as he burst into the box and squared it to Willian who was able to tap home.
Many have questioned how good Chelsea really are without Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata, but their first goal displayed just how good the Blues can be without the aforementioned pair.
Jordan Ibe shines but the Cherries have no focal point in attack, while Michy Batshuyi fails again
Jermain Defoe being withdrawn early on was a moment that every Bournemouth fan was terrified they would see, with the England-striker growing in prominence for the club in recent weeks. Eddie Howe decided to bring on Jordan Ibe for the forward, and this seemed a questionable move, with Bournemouth left without a true-striker on the pitch.
However, Ibe gave Chelsea all kinds of problems as his direct and pacy running saw the Blues’ backline having to constantly readjust to deal with the winger’s pace. Despite this, their lack of a real focal point in attack meant that there was not a potent finisher on the pitch, one that has a predatory instinct and is able to pop up in the box at the right time.
While the Cherries did not have a striker on the field, Chelsea may as well have not had one either. In his big chance to impress, Batshuayi once again struggled. On multiple occasions the youngster found himself with space in the box, but, lacking the experience and predatory instinct of a player like Defoe, Batshuayi spurned the chances.
It seemed as though these missed opportunities would come back to haunt Chelsea when Gosling scored, but Morata once again showed that he is top dog at Chelsea as he netted the winner.
No distraction for Bournemouth in the Cup, but they vastly improve on their defeat to Liverpool
Bournemouth’s troubles in the Premier League have been well documented this season after a campaign last time around in which they surprised and impressed so many. Eddie Howe’s men currently sit in 16th-place in the league with 16 points following four wins, four draws and 10 defeats. Indeed, their struggles have been compounded in their last five games as they are winless, losing three times and drawing twice.
Eddie Howe was in need of a much-improved performance at the weekend, but he could only watch as his team were consummately beaten by Liverpool in a 4-0 win. Had it not have been for the Red’s profligacy in front of goal, it could have been much more damaging. Again, Howe would have been looking for an immediate reaction, and that is exactly what he got.
Bournemouth were superb on the night as they looked to match their opponents. Bournemouth enjoyed exactly half of the possession in the game, while they had 12 shots of which two were on target, compared to Chelsea seven shots and two on target. The Blues are not the same gung-ho side as Liverpool who, when they are on form, they are near unstoppable, but Conte’s men are very capable in front of goal.
Of course, the loss was one that will disappoint the visitors, but Howe will know just how important a performance like this can be. To play the reigning Premier League champions in an EFL Cup quarter-final at Stamford Bridge is usually a recipe for an embarrassment, but Bournemouth will leave the stadium with their heads held high, knowing that it took a moment of magic from one of the world’s best players to finally kill them off.
Chelsea are still in the hunt for the triple
It has been a tough season for Chelsea so far. Their Champions League campaign was a positive one, but they ended up in second-place behind Roma and their punishment is a knock-out match against Barcelona. In the Premier League, they are already 14 points behind leaders Manchester City. Pep Guardiola’s men have won 17 games and they are yet to lose, while Chelsea have won 12 times and already lost three games, which shows the current gulf in class between the two sides.
It seems as though Antonio Conte’s men are facing one of the toughest tests they could have been given in Europe, while the defence of their Premier League title is lying in tatters. With the pressure on Conte at the start of the season massive, the manager must now look to maintain their good run of form which has seen them take a five point lead over Arsenal in fifth, while they are still in the hunt for an unlikely triple, after confirming their place in the semi-finals of the EFL Cup, while they are still in the FA Cup and have a chance of beating Barcelona in the Champions League.
Despite the fact that their Premier League campaign will likely end in them giving the trophy to Manchester City, a triple-winning season would cement Conte as one of Chelsea’s best ever.
The magic of the Cup lives on
It was Cup football at it’s finest at Stamford Bridge as neither side was willing to let the chance of appearing in an EFL Cup semi-final pass them by. Chelsea held their lead from the 13th minute, but Bournemouth were able to level things up with a well-worked goal that Dan Gosling curled into the back of the net after the ball was cut back to him on the edge of the box.
However, the Bournemouth celebrations had barely started to die down before Chelsea were once again in front. Eden Hazard embarked on another one of his slaloming runs as he beat a number of players, and he had the presence of mind to backheel the ball into space for Alvaro Morata, and his shot squeezed past Artur Boruc to give Chelsea the win.
Of course, there was still time for the visitors to attack as they looked to make it a very nervy end to the evening for the reigning Premier League champions. Fraser had a chance to score Bournemouth’s second of the game, but Gary Cahill was able to get in the way at the expense of a corner, and as hard as the Cherries pushed, Chelsea stood firm.
The game ended in victory for Chelsea, but the fans that remained in the stadium were treated to a whirlwind final few moments, and it was everything the Cup is about.
Chelsea: Caballero 6 – Rudiger 7, Ampadu 7.5, Cahill 6 – Zappacosta 5, Drinkwater 6, Fabregas 6, Kenedy 6 – Willian 7 (Hazard 8), Pedro 7 (Bakayoko 6), Batshuayi 5 (Morata 7).
Unused subs: Clarke-Salter, Eduardo, Sterling, Hudson-Odoi.
Bournemouth: Boruc 5 – Smith 5, Francis 5, Cook 6, Simpson 6 – Surman 6, Arter 6 (L Cook 6), Gosling 7, Mousset 5 (Wilson 6), Fraser 7 – Defoe 5 (Ibe 7).
Unused Subs: Ake, Pugh, Ramsdale, Hyndman.
Referee: Lee Mason.
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