Attack clicks as Chelsea put four past Bournemouth

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Updated: April 25, 2016

Finally, it came. It took a long, long time, but it came. It was a moment for every Chelsea fan to relish — no, rejoice at, even. Yes, it was finally Eden Hazard’s first 2015-2106 Premier League goal.

Finally back to full fitness, the Belgian had a point to prove. After being compared to Messi and Ronaldo just a year prior, Hazard has experienced a downward spiral of terrible form and fitness issues, which haven’t been helped by the accompanying downturn of the club as a whole. The toll this season has taken was apparent in his body language: head down and shoulders slumped.

But even more affected has been his playstyle. Though it’s readily apparent he still has the technical ability to maneuver the ball past defenders, an unsureness has crept into his game. Last season, he had no doubt he could beat, even embarrass the league’s best defenders — images of Pablo Zabaleta lying spread on the ground after a series of magnificent Hazard jinxes comes to mind.

Saturday’s game was a return to that. Perhaps somewhat of a convoluted and watered-down return, but after all, these things take time. Next weekend against Tottenham will his real test. Whether he rides the emotions from his impressive return or falls back in to the lack of confidence we’ve seen this season remains to be seen.

Fabregas steals the show

While Hazard grabbing two goals may have been the emotional highlight of the match, from a footballing perspective, Cesc Fabregas was simply unparalleled. The one true ball distributer of this Chelsea team, Fabregas showed off his ability to completely dominate the game through both how he controls the game with short passes and breaks it open with long, penetrating balls.

His ball playing was especially put to good use by linking up with Pedro on the counter attack. Multiple occasions saw Fabregas given time in the center of the park to try and pick out a slide-rule ball to Pedro slid between the fullback and the centerback. Five minutes in, it worked, as Pedro flicked it over Boruc. Another breakaway saw Pedro receive the ball and cut inside, only to curl it just over the bar. Nevertheless, the damage was done.

Fabregas wasn’t only prolific in the middle, though. Hiddink gave him freedom to get forward and support the wing play on the left side, which was where most of Chelsea’s link-up play happens. Willian and Costa heavily supported the left as well, allowing for overloads that enable a quick pass slid past the back line. However, this can also result in the left becoming quite congested, especially when Pedro moves to the center, disabling a long, switching ball (which isn’t ideal in the first place).

However, Cesc can thrive in congested areas — he just needs movement from the players around him. Fabregas can get the ball to a runner in nearly any way possible — his technique gives him the ability to perform chips or flicks under pressure — but if the supporting players are stagnant, he understandably struggles to move the ball forward. That’s why being in a fluid system, which is the exact opposite of Mourinho’s last few months in charge, is so important for him.

Chelsea lineup enables better buildup

While Matic has been unavailable recently due to injury, we’ve seen Mikel coming into the Chelsea midfield as a holding counterpart to Fabregas. Today, Matic was back, and with Cahill out with illness, Hiddink made the unorthodox move of playing Mikel as centerback.

On the defending side of the game, Mikel is by no means a centerback. Unsurprisingly given he’s not a centerback, he wasn’t solid in many of the position’s pillars: holding the line, body placement, when to step, etc. However, what he did give Chelsea was more passing ability from a deeper position. During deep buildup, Fabregas is often expected to do the majority of the ball progression, though he is sometimes helped by an attacking midfielder rotating deep. Still, when Fabregas is marked or in a cover shadow, pressure often makes the centerbacks clear it long toward Costa.

This all stems from the lack of a ball playing centerback in the Chelsea system. Since the departure of David Luiz, there’s been a distinct lack of a centerback that can also act as a midfielder, comfortably making passes that create space. To an extent, Mikel filled that role, though his defensive failings disqualify him as a true candidate for the position.

However, it would come as no surprise if a ball playing centerback were to come as one of Conte’s first signings. After all, the back line are the first attackers, and Europe’s truly big teams all utilize one: Barcelona with Pique, Bayern with Boateng, Dortmund with Hummels. If Kurt Zouma will truly be Chelsea’s future in defence (and hopefully he will) he’ll need a partner more comfortable on the ball to complement him.

Conclusion

Overall, Chelsea fans only have reason to be happy after Saturday’s game. The long-awaited Hazard goal and the beauty of a Fabregas masterclass should only give impart hope ahead of the approaching London Derby. Furthermore, the fact that Mikel was forced to play at centerback will hopefully send a message to Abramovich that a ball playing centerback is sorely needed for Chelsea to once again become a top team.

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