Out to regroup from a disheartening loss, Chelsea attempt to strengthen their top-four position Saturday when they face relegation-threatened Bournemouth at Dean Court.
The scope of the rebuild under first-year coach Frank Lampard took on a different perspective Tuesday at home in the first leg of their round of 16 Champions League tie versus German powerhouse Bayern Munich. Outclassed and outfoxed by Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski, it all went pear-shaped for the Pensioners (13-5-9) in a 25-minute span of the second half in a 3-0 defeat.
Lewandowski set up a pair of goals by Serge Gnabry shortly after the restart and then provided the gloss on the scoreline with his 39th goal in all competitions in the 76th minute. While Lewandowski is expected to miss the second leg in Munich on March 18 due to injury, Chelsea will play that match without defender Marcos Alonso, who was sent off late, and midfielder Jorginho, whose yellow card for dissent ruled him out of that contest.
«It was a difficult night,» striker Olivier Giroud admitted to Chelsea’s official website. «They were too strong. It’s hard to say but they deserved to win. At half-time the feeling was we were matching them. We had a few good opportunities also. … But they accelerated on the counter-attack in the second half. When they scored early, two goals in three minutes, psychologically it was hard.
«For now we need to focus on the Premier League first and finish in the top four. We need to put things right on Saturday and bounce back as soon as possible.»
Giroud likely will get the call to lead the line for a third straight contest since Tammy Abraham appeared to tweak a hamstring injury during Tuesday’s loss. The 22-year-old Abraham is tied for seventh in the Premier League with 13 goals but has gone five matches without one since striking versus Burnley on Jan. 11 and had been dealing with an ankle injury.
While Abraham may be sidelined again, Christian Pulisic may be among the 18 after missing two months with an adductor injury. The U.S. international has six goals and three assists in 22 matches across all competitions, and his absence has caused Mason Mount to play out of position on the wing as opposed to a more central role.
The questions at the other end of the pitch also persist as Willy Caballero again did little to distinguish himself. The Argentina international has conceded eight goals in four starts since supplanting Kepa Arrizabalaga, with Chelsea going 1-1-2 in those contests and failing to register a clean sheet.
All told, the Blues have recorded just seven shutouts in 39 matches in all competitions.
Bournemouth (7-5-15) will try to expose those defensive frailties, but a side known for their flowing offence in recent seasons have seen the goal spigot turned off this term. The Cherries have just 26 goals, only two better than the quartet of clubs tied for the Premier League low, and the paucity in attack is a key reason they enter this contest on 26 points, just two above the drop in 16th place.
Bournemouth are entering a rough patch of schedule – they also travel to champions-elect Liverpool and Wolverhampton among their next four matches starting with this contest — and did themselves no favours last weekend with a 3-0 defeat at Burnley.
Eddie Howe could feel aggrieved considering the match turned against them in diabolical fashion via VAR in the second half when Harry Wilson had an equaliser chalked off for offsides and then hit with a penalty when it was ruled left back Adam Smith handled the ball prior to the counterattack that led to Wilson’s goal.
Aaron Ramsdale was unable to stop Jay Rodriguez’s penalty and Bournemouth were consigned to their 12th defeat in 16 league matches (3-1-12).
«It hinged on the first one,» Howe said, referring to a first-half goal by Josh King that was also disallowed by VAR, when asked about the match changing on the second-half decisions. «I think the first one dictates the referee, whatever you call the VAR decision-maker, I think that decides the second one. The first one for me was a clear goal, it comes off Phil’s shoulder.
«I don’t know what to say because I don’t want to get myself in trouble but it’s a bitterly, bitterly disappointing day because we played really well in the first half and I think we tailed off mentally because of what happened in the game.»
Bournemouth do at least have positive home form entering this match with back-to-back wins at Dean Court, but they are 2-1-4 in their seven meetings with the Big Six this term. Howe could draft Steve Cook back into his defence, while Jefferson Lerma could join him provided he has recovered from a back injury.
The Cherries are seeking their first top-flight double over Chelsea and a third straight win in this rivalry after recording a 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge on Dec. 14. Dan Gosling’s goal on 84 minutes proved decisive for Bournemouth, who were rampant in a 4-0 rout in last season’s corresponding fixture.