Chelsea beat Bournemouth to restore Premier League lead
Five more wins and Antonio Conte’s men will be crowned champions, no matter what red-hot Tottenham do between now and the end of the season.
But while 15 more points will guarantee them a second title in three years, this current crop of Blues can go even higher.
For should they maintain a 100 per cent record over the rest of the run-in, they will finish with a record-breaking total of 96 points.
That would eclipse anything achieved by the greatest English teams of the last 24 years. The current best of 95 was set by Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in 2005 when the Special One conquered all in his first season on these shores.
Do no bet against Conte’s troops going one better in the Italian’s own debut Premier League campaign.
Marcos Alonso scored a stunning free-kick
Antonio Conte restores lead over Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham
With Mauricio Pochettino’s north Londoners hell-bent on pushing them all the way to the line, the Blues can ill-afford any slip-ups.
That was certainly the scenario when they arrived on the south coast yesterday f evening showdown.
Spurs’ 4-0 romp over Watford made victory imperative here if the visitors wanted to stay in total control of the title race.
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That was not going to be easy because Bournemouth were in something of a purple patch.
And as Howe’s minnows have shown since arriving among the English elite, they have the ability to unhinge the very best – especially on their own patch.
They were actually bidding to make it three home wins on the spin for the first time in six months and equal their best-ever unbeaten sequence at this level – six games.
But if those stats were impressive, other numbers were less encouraging for Bournemouth.
They had beaten Chelsea only once in eight attempts here – in 1989 when both were in the old Second Division.
Throw in the Blues’ miserly defence under Conte this term and it was clear why the visitors were red-hot favourites.
Chelsea player ratings against Bournemouth
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Express Sport rates how the Chelsea players performed during their 3-1 win over Bournemouth
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On their travels Chelsea had conceded just 13 times – and only six since their manager went from four to three at the back.
Yet that total nearly hit 14 inside the opening 90 seconds yesterday – from the boot of David Luiz.
Ryan Fraser, who according to Howe can one day be good as Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, fired a low cross into the danger area.
Brazilian defender Luiz’s clearance was wild – and heading for the top corner until Thibaut Courtois’ finger-tip save.
Twelve minutes later, Fraser had the opportunity to break the deadlock after Jack Wilshere’s pass cut Chelsea’s rearguard in two. But the Scottish ace’s effort lacked similar precision.
And how the Cherries paid for that miss as the Londoners responded by scoring twice in the space of three minutes.
The first was really unlucky. Diego Costa’s 17th minute drive was drifting well wide before hitting Adam Smith’s head and bouncing past wrong-footed Artur Boruc.
Josh King pulled one back for Bournemouth with a deflected shot
There was nothing fortunate about Chelsea’s second, however.
Catching their opponents on the counter, N’Golo Kante’s pass left the lightning Hazard with only the keeper to beat.
The Belgium accomplished that with a dip of the shoulder and neat finish into the far corner despite almost losing his footing.
If the away fans thought that was game over then Benik Afobe’s fierce 28th-minute blast against the post made them think again.
As did prolific Josh King just before the break when he cut the deficit with his ninth goal in nine games – a blistering 20-yarder, which flew in via Luis.
Suddenly, the outcome was in the balance. Chelsea seemed visibly shaken.
At least they did until Italian wing-back Marcos Alonso restored the two-goal lead with a wonder strike after 68 minutes.
Alonso has scored several crucial goals this season but none as good as the 25-yard free-kick that finally killed off the Cherries.