Chelsea maintained their seven-point lead at the top of the Premier League with an entertaining victory over spirited Bournemouth.
Pressured by Tottenham’s earlier thrashing of Watford, the visitors looked to be cruising after two goals in three first-half minutes.
But Bournemouth, who had already hit the post, got back into the contest through Joshua King’s long-range deflected effort.
The Cherries continued to press after half-time, only for Chelsea to gradually regain control and secure the points through Marcos Alonso’s impeccable free-kick.
The Blues next travel to Manchester United, their sternest of six league fixtures between now and the end of the season.
If they return from Old Trafford with their seven-point advantage still intact, they will be a huge step closer to a sixth title and fifth in the Premier League era.
Chelsea keep Spurs at bay
A week ago, Chelsea’s seemingly unstoppable march to glory was disrupted by a shock home defeat by Crystal Palace, giving hope to second-placed Tottenham.
However, they got back on track by beating Manchester City and seemed unaffected by Spurs’ earlier victory in producing an emphatic start in the south-coast sun.
If the Chelsea first goal was bizarre – Diego Costa’s scuffed shot went in off the head of grounded home defender Adam Smith – the second was sublime.
N’Golo Kante, excellent in both winning the ball and moving the visitors forward, found the equally impressive Eden Hazard with a precision long pass, allowing the galloping Belgian to round home keeper Artur Boruc.
The away side were pegged back either side of half-time, but gradually reasserted themselves as the second period progressed and Alonso’s curling, dipping free-kick killed the contest.
Bournemouth battle again
At the beginning of March, Bournemouth were winless in eight league games, only five points above the relegation zone and being dragged into a fight for survival.
However, some whole-hearted displays, including coming from behind to earn a point at Liverpool in midweek, meant this was their first defeat in six.
It could have been different with a change of fortune, too.
There was a huge slice of luck involved in Chelsea’s first and Benik Afobe was unfortunate to hit the woodwork when arriving late to meet Charlie Daniels’ cross.
With Afobe, King and Ryan Fraser all lively, the Cherries were willing to test Chelsea through the middle and got their reward when King lashed in his 13th of the season from outside the box, via a touch off David Luiz – even if Chelsea complained of a Smith handball in the build-up.
Ultimately, though, coming from two behind was too much to ask for the home side and it was Boruc who was the much busier keeper in the second period.
If there is one, incredibly slight, concern for Chelsea in the run-in, it may be the form of Costa, who has now gone five domestic games without a goal.
The Spain international’s afternoon was one of frustration, mis-kicks and miscues, albeit plenty of endeavour to create goalscoring opportunities.
His attempt for Chelsea’s first was a comical slice, only saved from going well wide by the intervention of Smith.
But that was not the only time that Costa struggled in front of goal, with the man who has netted 18 times this season often lacking sharpness when presented with an opportunity.
Still, that is no comfort for the chasing pack, who probably already have too much to do.
Garden of Eden – the stats
- Eden Hazard has scored four times in his last three Premier League appearances against Bournemouth.
- Hazard’s haul of 14 Premier League goals this season is his joint-best-ever return in a season in the competition (also 14 in 13-14 and 14-15).
- N’Golo Kante has provided his first ever Premier League assist for Chelsea in what is his 30th appearance.
- Joshua King has scored 10 goals in his last 11 Premier League appearances, after netting just three in the 20 before that this season.
- Indeed, only Romelu Lukaku (11) and Harry Kane (11) have scored more Premier League goals in 2017 than Josh King (10 – level with Dele Alli).
- Marcos Alonso has netted five PL goals this season. Among defenders, only James Milner (7) and Gareth McAuley (6) have more.
Bournemouth complete a back-to-back double of the Premier League’s top two with a trip to Tottenham Hotspur at 12:30 next Saturday, while Chelsea are reunited with former manager Jose Mourinho against Manchester United at 16:00 on Sunday, 16 April.