Bournemouth drop Chelsea in stunner at Stamford Bridge
So much for the Chelsea renaissance.
Victories over Norwich and Maccabi Tel Aviv and a goalless draw at Tottenham had suggested Chelsea was on the way back, and Jose Mourinho's chipper mood this week had suggested he felt the storm was passing. A home game against a side in the relegation zone that hadn't won since mid-September seemed to offer a ready opportunity to consolidate the recovery. Except that the unthinkable happened.
Not for the first time this season, Chelsea may feel it didn't get the rub of the refereeing decisions. Glenn Murray was probably just offside as he nodded in the winner from close range to make it 1-0 with eight minutes remaining. But the point is almost cosmetic: Chelsea, the defending champion, simply shouldn't be in a position in which it is protesting over a matter of inches on a linesman's call.
This was Chelsea's fourth home defeat of the campaign; before this season, Jose Mourinho had previously only lost one home league match in his two spells in charge of the club. It's becoming increasingly irrelevant, but the gap from Chelsea to the leaders, Leicester City, is now 17 points.
Chelsea stands only three points above the relegation zone, only two points above Bournemouth, who climbed to fourth bottom. Bournemouth secured the win with a combination of great attacking flair early on and dogged resolution in the second half to claim its first clean sheet since a win over Sunderland nine games ago.
Jose Mourinho again omitted Diego Costa from the starting line-up, preferring Eden Hazard as an unorthodox center-forward. As the Spain striker left the dug-out to warm up just after the half-hour, Chelsea fans chanted "We want our Costa back" although it was hard to know whether that was aimed at player or manager. He at least wore boots, which suggested rather more engagement than had been apparent as he wandered up the line at Tottenham last week, although his warm-up could hardly be described as rigorous.
Nonetheless, he came on at half-time for Oscar. His performance was typical of Costa this season, full of brawling surliness and lacking much in the way of verve of utility. He might have been booked for bundling over Adam Smith and was shown the yellow card when he hauled Matt Ritchie back.
Hazard had worked diligently in the lone foward role away at Tottenham last Sunday, having Chelsea's one clear shot of the game, a performance that impressed Mourinho so much that he gave him a dossier explaining how well he'd played. Hazard was, again, Chelsea's most creative player. He hit an early effort straight at Artur Boruc after a clever pass from Willian, then drew the Polish keeper into a plunging save after a creating space with a winding run, but much of Chelsea's play was disjointed or sluggish.
That, really, has been the story of the champion as an attacking force all season: too much that is too pedestrian. When it does create chances, it tends to be the result of a moment of individual invention, rather than through the sort of team play that can be reproduced and relied upon.
For much of the first half it was Bournemouth that looked the more threatening. It pressed high and, with Harry Arter carrying the ball forward with a great sense of purpose, Chelsea was rattled, as it has been so often this season by teams who run at it. Junior Stanislas had shot blocked early on as a Smith cross was half-cleared, then Thibaut Courtois, back in the side after three months out with a knee injury, made fine low saves from Stanislas and Josh Kong.
Chelsea came to dominate towards the end of the first half, Boruc saving at full-stretch as Pedro shaped a shot round Smith and then Oscar, smacking his shot rather nearer the keeper than he needed to, having an effort blocked just before the break.
The second half began in similar vein, with Chelsea on the offensive. Nemanja Matic, wearing a mask to protect a broken nose, headed over from six yards as Steve Cook got just enough of a touch on a Willian cross to distract him. Boruc saved at his near post from Branislav Ivanovic, and there were string Chelsea shouts for a penalty as a Costa cross was deflected into the arm of the prone Simon Francis, but the longer the half went on, the more frustrated Chelsea became and the more scratchy its football.
"We dominated the game but one refereeing mistake cost us," Mourinho said. "It was a clear handball, with the result at 0-0, but that's part of the game. In the first half we were not aggressive enough.
When Stanislas went down with a leg injury 20 minutes from time, Mourinho and his assistant Steven Holland both protested vehemently to the Bournemouth technical area about the amount of time it was taking for him to receive treatment.
"You know, time-outs, stop of the play, asking for a medical department to go in to drink for a minute like in basketball," Mourinho claimed. "But they did very well."
Yet for all Chelsea's desperation, it was Bournemouth who found the late winner. Cook got to a dropping ball ahead of Ivanovic and scooped it back across goal where Murray, who had been on the pitch a matter of seconds, diverted it over the line. Somehow, Chelsea's season had gotten even worse.
Information from PA Sport was used in this report.