When the goal finally came, it was alarming in its simplicity. Alvaro Morata held the ball up superbly, as he did all evening along, ghosted away from a couple of defenders and pitched a pass into the left channel.
Eden Hazard gave chase, Simon Francis tumbled over in hot pursuit, and the Belgian fired the ball through Asmir Begovic and into the goal.
For Chelsea manager Antonio Conte, a surge of relief. This had been a reasonable enough away performance but for 51 minutes, a sense of frustration grew as Chelsea spurned a catalogue of openings.
Eden Hazard fires Chelsea ahead with a left-footed strike that flies past Asmir Begovic at his near post
The Belgian slides to his knees after scoring his first Premier League of the season for the champions in the second half
Marcos Alonso, Alvaro Morata, Cesar Azpilicueta and Antonio Rudiger congratulate Hazard after his opener on Saturday
MATCH FACTS, PLAYER RATINGS AND MATCH ZONE
- Premier League
- Premier League
- League One
- League Two
- Scottish Premiership
- Scottish Div 1
- Scottish Div 2
- Scottish Div 3
- Ligue 1
- Serie A
- La Liga
Eden Hazard fires Chelsea ahead in the second-half. CLICK HERE for more from MATCH ZONE
Bournemouth: Begovic, Francis, Ake, Cook, Smith, Cook, Surman, Daniels, Stanislas (Pugh 62), Defoe (Ibe 45), Afobe (Wilson 74)
Subs not used: Boruc, Gosling, Arter, Mousset
Chelsea: Courtois, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Rudiger, Zappacosta, Fabregas, Bakayoko, Alonso, Pedro (Drinkwater 79), Hazard (Willian 85), Morata (Batshuayi 79)
Subs not used: Caballero, Cahill, Christensen,Ampadu
Goalscorers: Hazard 51
Referee: Craig Pawson
Conte responded to Hazard’s strike by throwing his arms out in celebration but his thoughts immediately turned. He pointed his index fingers towards his head and told his players to concentrate.
If Chelsea retain the merest aspirations of defending their crown, this was a game they dare not lose. Indeed, as Conte suggested, they could barely afford a draw.
As Chelsea’s team coach pulled into the south coast, the players were firmly aware that they sat 12 points behind Manchester City. Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United were seven ahead and the former Chelsea manager returns to Stamford Bridge next week.
The prospect of Mourinho repeating his shush gesture and tearing the blue ribbons off the Premier League trophy should be motivation enough for that Bonfire Night clash. Here, at least, Chelsea ensured their ambitions remain relevant for next week’s duel.
Chelsea started this game with purpose. Their passing was crisp and their build-up play well thought-out, if a little ponderous at times. Yet Chelsea’s dominance was such Conte’s side could have been home and dry by the half-time whistle.
Instead, an exasperating period for Conte saw Chelsea denied first by their own carelessness, then by the assistant referee’s errant judgement and finally by the courage of the Bournemouth goalkeeper Begovic.
Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata tussles with Bournemouth’s Andrew Surman for the ball during the opening stages
Chelsea playmaker Eden Hazard shields the ball from Bournemouth’s Lewis Cook at the Vitality Stadium
Tiemoue Bakayoko played for the first time since dyeing his hair a shocking blue colour this week
Chelsea winger Pedro has his head in his hands after coming close to putting the away side ahead at Bournemouth
Bournemouth striker Benik Afobe attempts to get a shot on goal as Chelsea defender David Luiz covers
Spanish left-back Marcos Alonso tackles for the ball alongside Bournemouth’s Adam Smith in Saturday’s game
Former Chelsea centre-back Nathan Ake gets down well to block Davide Zappacosta’s attempt at a cross
Eden Hazard tries to play a cross into the penalty area as Andrew Surman sticks a leg out to try to block its way through
Morata was the first culprit. A tragicomic 30 seconds saw Begovic skew a clearance straight into Eden Hazard’s path. The Belgian carried the ball forward and teed up Morata perfectly but as the Spaniard opened up his body, he sidefooted the ball wide of the post.
At times this season, Conte has appeared to be spoiling for a fight at every turn. This week, the print media felt Conte’s wrath but unease towards the club hierarchy and his own players has pockmarked the Italian’s tenure since the end of last season.
The officials may have been next on his hit-list after Morata was then spurned by Eddie Smart’s offside flag.
A well-worked set-piece saw Hazard pull the ball back for David Luiz, whose effort was deflected towards Cesar Azpilicueta. Begovic smothered the defender’s effort and Morata turned the ball in. Yet up went Smart’s yellow flag to curtail the celebrations. Replays did not reflect well on the decision, with Azpilicueta shown to be level.
Bournemouth, languishing in the relegation zone and with pressing needs for points of their own, threatened rarely.
A victory at Stoke aided matters last week but the club have not won consecutive Premier League matches since April and it may be one reason why boyhood Everton fan Eddie Howe’s name has scarcely been mentioned in relation to the vacant job at Goodison Park.
Howe’s concern was such here that he removed the anonymous Jermain Defoe at the interval. Bournemouth were tepid for long periods here, too passive off the ball and lacking incision during the rare periods they exercised control.
Alvaro Morata bemoans a missed opportunity as he failed to find the target in a tight first-half on the south coast
Andrew Surman attempts to play a cross into the box as Marcos Alonso closes down the Bournemouth man
Bournemouth striker Jermain Defoe is left on his knees as the home side struggle to get the better of their opponents
Chelsea’s Spanish winger Pedro attempts to get the ball under control as he leaps into the night air
Chelsea centre-back David Luiz watches on as Bournemouth striker Benik Afobe lunges forward in the second-half
Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas pats Junior Stanislas on the back as he makes his way towards the bench
Bournemouth’s half-time substitute Jordon Ibe races clear of Chelsea winger Pedro in the second period
Chelsea’s Brazilian centre-back David Luiz gets a firm boot to the ball ahead of Bournemouth striker Benik Afobe
Benik Afobe wasted one positive early opening and Azpilicueta defended impressively when Simon Francis flashed a ball across the Chelsea goal.
Chelsea kept coming. As the first-half ended, Chelsea could not have set up camp more in the Bournemouth half if they pitched a row of tents across the 18-yard-line. A breakthrough appeared inevitable.
Morata’s qualities soon came to the fore, as he tip-toed by two opponents after lovely interplay with Hazard. Morata drove the strike powerfully towards goal but Begovic spread himself and diverted the ball over. Conte screwed up his features and ran his hands over his visage before turning back to the dugout in frustration. Little wonder he smiled so broadly when the breakthrough came.
His team still had the occasional fright, most notably when David Luiz and Cesc Fabregas ran into each other and Defoe’s replacement Jordon Ibe struck the ball over the top. Captain Azpilicueta appeared to meet every cross. When Thibaut Courtois was finally called upon, he held firm when Steve Cook powered a strike on goal.
Indeed, Chelsea should have closed the game off themselves when Fabregas broke from midfield and curled over the top from the angle. For Conte, however, the victory was all that really mattered.
Junior Stanislas trots over to the corner flag as he gets ready to take a set piece as the Vitality Stadium watches on
Both sets of players line up and observe a minute’s silence before kick-off ahead of Remembrance Sunday next month