Chelsea have no answer for Cherries as Bournemouth leave Bridge 3-0 winners
LONDON -- Here are three quick thoughts from Chelsea's 3-0 Premier League defeat to Bournemouth on Wednesday at Stamford Bridge.
1. Chelsea have no answer for Bournemouth
Olivier Giroud was the centre of attention ahead of kickoff at Stamford Bridge, indulging requests from his new fans to pose for pictures as he and fellow January arrival Emerson Palmieri took their seats just behind the Chelsea bench.
Antonio Conte could have done with him on the pitch. The Italian let it be known in no uncertain terms that his preparations for the visit of Bournemouth had been severely disrupted by the frantic final days of the transfer window, and his team's toothless display in a tepid first half bore out his assessment.
Eden Hazard, deployed as a false nine with Alvaro Morata injured and Michy Batshuayi familiarising himself with Borussia Dortmund, was at the heart of everything the home side did well, but their most promising attacking moves invariably ended with crosses into an empty penalty area.
In retrospect, the only significant moment in the first half was the enforced withdrawal of Andreas Christensen after just 28 minutes. The brilliant 21-year-old put the ball out of play before clutching his hamstring and being replaced by Antonio Rudiger.
This was a night in which Chelsea's forays into the final third achieved little, while their struggling opponents made the most of theirs. Six minutes after the interval, Callum Wilson passed to Jordon Ibe and raced onto the former Liverpool winger's excellent return pass, slipping the ball under Thibaut Courtois.
Conte, already underwhelmed by what he had seen, immediately responded by introducing Cesc Fabregas for Ross Barkley, whose first Chelsea start had been a frustrating and ineffective experience.
The home side pushed forward with renewed intent as Conte readied the only other attacking option on his bench, 17-year-old Callum Hudson-Odoi. But no sooner had the Italian turned his eyes from the play to brief the youngster than Bournemouth struck again, with Junior Stanislas firing through the legs of Courtois.
Chelsea's back line seemed to have lost all structure and composure in the absence of Christensen, and Bournemouth took full advantage to put the game beyond doubt. Nathan Ake, on his return to Stamford Bridge, stayed alert following a corner scramble and glanced a shot inside the far post.
He celebrated in front of the delirious travelling supporters. Conte, forced to chase a match without the requisite tools, had no answer.
2. Christensen adds to Chelsea's injury woes
In an interview with ESPN FC on Tuesday, Christensen admitted that navigating his first season without a winter break was taking its toll on his body.
"Sometimes you feel exhausted, but you want to play," he said. "I'm used to having those two weeks off where you can just put everything to one side and relax and do whatever you want to do. It's tough, but it is how it is."
Those words proved prescient when, under no pressure and with little exertion, Christensen's hamstring appeared to give way. His is not the first muscle injury that Conte has been forced to work around in recent months, and with matches continuing to come thick and fast, you sense he won't be the last.
It remains unclear when Morata will be fit to play again without feeling pain in his back, though Willian's hamstring issue is not thought to be serious. The given reason for David Luiz's absence here was a kick to the ankle in training. His swift return is all the more vital now.
December brought nine matches in all competitions for Chelsea, and January has yielded nine more. The load has been felt not just in dangerously stretched muscles but also in jaded and uninspired performances, particularly in the final third. This was the fourth time the Blues have failed to score in 2018.
Marina Granovskaia's maneuverings in the final days of the transfer window have been impressive, but Conte will be entitled to think that he could have done with significant reinforcements earlier. The only arrival prior to this week, Barkley, is clearly in no physical state to make meaningful contributions yet.
The only positive is that with the Premier League title long gone, Chelsea's tangible losses over this stretch have been limited to the Carabao Cup. Hopes of redeeming a season in drift with silverware remain in the FA Cup and Champions League, but Barcelona will surely be licking their lips.
3. Cherries in ripe form
Bournemouth quietly arrived at Stamford Bridge in good form: five matches undefeated in the Premier League, and a tally of nine points surpassed only by the current top five. They played with confidence and, in a span of 15 wild second-half minutes, exposed Conte's worst fears about his team's preparations.
Individually, they have limitations, but collectively Eddie Howe's men know exactly who they are. That counts for a lot in the bottom half of the table, where most of their rivals are in varying states of dysfunction and disarray.
They served warning of a performance such as this in a thrilling Carabao Cup tie at Stamford Bridge in December, losing only to a last-gasp Morata strike after Dan Gosling had cancelled out Willian's opener and looked to have sent the match spiralling toward extra time.
Howe and his players allowed no loss of focus this time around, defending with calm and numbers without the ball and attacking with a clarity of purpose and thought that exposed Chelsea's lack of the same.
Two points above the relegation zone prior to kickoff, it would be a huge surprise if there didn't prove to be at least three worse teams in the Premier League this season; the number will likely be closer to 10.
Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.