Antonio Conte was in no doubt about the significance of Chelsea’s club record, 12th successive league win.
This, according to the head coach, was a victory that will resonate among their main rivals for the Premier League title.
It wasn’t simply that his side had maintained their ruthless approach towards accumulating points since the painful defeat at Arsenal.
More telling, in the eyes of the Italian, was the fact that Chelsea were missing suspended duo Diego Costa and N’Golo Kante, their two outstanding players of recent weeks, and the impact was negligible.
The primary reason for this was the performance of Eden Hazard who, after a week’s deliberation by Conte, was asked to fill the central striker role normally occupied by Costa, flanked either side by Pedro and Willian.
Hazard was simply outstanding, converting the 49th-minute penalty that effectively secured victory after Pedro had given Chelsea the lead with a superb individual strike in the 24th minute.
Pedro’s second deep into added time wrapped up the win that had also been gilded by the performances of Cesc Fabregas in place of Kante alongside Nemanja Matic in midfield. Little wonder Conte was satisfied though the head coach insisted the club record meant nothing compared to the lure of the bigger prize in May.
“I think today we sent a good message,” said the Italian. “In general because I think that a lot of people waited to see if, without two really important players, Costa and Kante, we could lose points in this game.
“It didn’t happen, I am pleased for this, because I can count on all my players in the squad. I try in every game to make the best decision for the team without looking at the faces.”
He added: “If you ask me I hope to continue this run until the end of the season but, for sure, it is not easy. For me, it’s important only for the table. With these 12 wins in a row we took 36 points and our table is fantastic now. It’s important only for this.
“I always thought that the record is not important if at the end you don’t reach something important in your championship. But to be with my players to have this record we are proud.”
Conte’s decision to go with Hazard through the middle meant Michy Batshuayi, the €38m summer signing from Marseille, who was again left on the bench, is still waiting for his first league start.
The 23-year-old’s sense of frustration was compounded when he was finally introduced for Hazard immediately after Pedro’s added time third only for referee Mike Jones to blow time before the restart.
“After the Crystal Palace game I said we had a week to work to find the right solution, to play for the first time without Diego, without Kante,” said Conte. “After a week of work, I decide to chose this type of solution, with Eden, Pedro and Willian. I’m pleased for the performance of these players.”
Conte’s decision was immediately justified by the way Chelsea started the game and especially when Pedro collected the ball on the edge of the Bournemouth box after good approach play by Hazard and Fabregas. The Spaniard floated a chip over Artur Boruc and from that point the outcome was never in doubt.
Hazard’s run four minutes after the interval drew a foul from Simon Francis, allowing the forward to add the second from the penalty spot and Pedro confirmed the victory with a deflected shot in added time that confirmed the gap between the two sides.
“Hazard was outstanding, his movement and ability to turn on the ball so quickly, his technical ability to turn on the ball so quickly,” said Eddie Howe, the Bournemouth manager. “When you have him, Pedro and Willian, counter-attacking with such pace it’s difficult. We gave them too many times to get into those situations by not being tight enough. That’s something we take away from this game.”
Courtois 7; Azpilicueta 7, Luiz 6, Cahill 6; Moses 7 (Aina, 89, 6), Fabregas 8, Matic 7, Alonso 6; Willian 7 (Chalobah 82,6), Hazard 9 (Batshuayi 93), Pedro 8.
Subs not used:
Begovic, Ivanovic, Zouma, Loftus-Cheek
Boruc 6; Francis 5, Cook 6, Daniels 6; A.Smith 6, Gosling 5, Surman 5 (Stanislas 66, 6), Arter 6, B.Smith 6 (Ibe 77); Wilshere 7; King 5 (Afobe 66, 6).
Subs not used:
Federici, Mings, Fraser, Wilson
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