After a pair of successful cup ties we're back in Premier League action tonight. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton prepare for the South Coast...
After Wednesday comes Wednesday: from the twilight zone of a 6pm Sunday kick-off in the FA Cup it is back to the league and a familiar midweek start time in the Premier League. With more than 60 per cent of the campaign completed, Maurizio Sarri’s team will be keen to restore the three-point advantage over Arsenal, who beat the Blues 10 days ago, and go five clear of FA Cup opponents Manchester United.
Statistics show the gulf between Chelsea and hosts Bournemouth is eight places, 17 points, and 30 goals, but the Cherries have not suffered a defeat in three home matches, keeping two clean sheets along the way in one of the best current runs in the top flight.
The Blues have won five times in succession in Dorset, though, a sequence stretching back to the late Eighties and an Alan Dickens hat-trick in the Full Members’ Cup.
Chelsea are seeking a sixth successive away win at Bournemouth in all competitions.
— Key stat
The past two cup games have brought the best out of the Blues’ squad, with plenty of impressive performances in consecutive Carabao Cup semi-final and FA Cup victories.
Two-goal Willian has looked back to his influential best, and Callum Hudson-Odoi again showed his immense potential with an accomplished performance against Sheffield Wednesday. His goal from Andreas Christensen’s brilliant assist finished a 16-pass move (including the Cesar Azpilicueta throw-in a few yards from the corner flag in our half) involving every Blues player except Marcos Alonso and Gonzalo Higuain.
The teenager admitted he learned the impressive ‘chop’ trick from his Brazilian team-mate, and there can be few more compelling reasons for him to stay than to continue learning from and being encouraged by the very best players at what has been his home for 11 years.
Premier League top-scorers
Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) 16
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal) 15
Harry Kane (Tottenham) 14
Sergio Aguero (Man City) 11
Eden Hazard (Chelsea) 10
Raheem Sterling (Man City) 10
Callum Wilson (Bournemouth) 10
Maurizio Sarri also had plenty of praise for one of the players rested at the weekend, Kepa Arrizabalaga. As a young Spanish goalkeeper, Sarri noted, he has improved very quickly, adapting to the unique physical challenge of the Premier League where ‘in the box it’s like another sport.’
This is match number 39 of the season for Chelsea, and February will be another unusually hectic one, with the return of European football plus a further round of midweek league fixtures crammed in.
Potentially, as the only club alongside Manchester City still engaged on four fronts, the Blues could play as many as 66 games throughout 2018/19. The most ever for the club was 69 in the 2012/13 season, which included the UEFA Super Cup, and FIFA Club World Cup.
Qualifying for the Carabao Cup final almost added to this month’s tally of seven games. Our televised home league game against Brighton at midday on Sunday 24 February clashed with the Wembley showpiece and had to be rearranged. It was pencilled in for Tuesday 5 February, but could only be confirmed should both sides avoid a draw in their respective FA Cup games last weekend.
Chelsea won, of course, but the Seagulls’ match against West Bromwich Albion ended goalless and will be replayed next week, so the Sussex club’s postponed league visit has yet to be squeezed into the diary.
Huddersfield lost at Everton last night, their 11th game since November without a win.
The one-off Continental Tyres League Cup semi-final against Man City will take place at Kingsmeadow on Wednesday 6 February, kick-off 7.30pm. Click for tickets. The winners face either Arsenal or Man United in the final on 23 February.
Next month’s UEFA Youth League visitors Monaco are unbeaten in four since the resumption of their domestic league which, like the UYL but unlike Chelsea’s Under-18 Premier League, is a competition for under-19s.
The transfer window closes tomorrow at 11pm UK time, and Chelsea connections at Bournemouth have continued to mount up while it has been open.
Not content with already having old boys Nathan Ake and Asmir Begovic in their ranks, the Cherries have recruited erstwhile Cobham Academy boys Dominic Solanke and Chris Mepham, and taken on loan Nathaniel Clyne, a boyhood fan of the west Londoners, who modelled his style of play on none other than our maestro, Gianfranco Zola.
THE BEST THAT CAN HAPPEN THIS WEEKEND…
Six on the spin on the south coast.
Premier League fixtures
Bournemouth v Chelsea 7.45pm
Liverpool v Leicester 8pm BT Sport
Southampton v Crystal Palace 7.45pm
Tottenham v Watford 8pm