Havertz and Mount push Chelsea past Bournemouth but James injured again Premier League

A home win in regulation this might have been. But victory over Bournemouth – and a comfortable one at that – was as welcome, as it was necessary for Graham Potter.

First-half goals from World Cup returnees Kai Havertz and Mason Mount made what could have been an awkward evening, one of relief and, largely, satisfaction. The statistical gurus stroked their keyboards in anticipation, ready to pounce on any Chelsea mishap, which, given this fixture’s recent history, was a genuine concern.

But really Chelsea ought to have added more gloss. The real kicker of the evening came when Reece James suffered what appeared to be a recurrence of the knee injury that caused him to miss Qatar.

This was not a result for Potter to get carried away with. But there can be genuine excitement at Raheem Sterling’s showing. This was the player they bought. And while Chelsea will almost certainly seek at least temporary striking reinforcements in January, Havertz will take confidence from both his strike and performance.

Gary O’Neill’s Bournemouth side were outclassed. To call them plucky is a tad harsh; these are not nights on which their season will turn. But they barely landed a punch until the closing stages.

Given the length of their World Cup hiatus – 45 days have passed since Chelsea’s last competitive fixture – it feels misleading to use that starting line-up as a frame of reference.

But, that Graham Potter felt able to name just three of the 11 who started their defeat at Newcastle, demonstrated the World Cup’s impact on his selection. Reece James, ruled out of England duty by injury, returned for the first time since mid-October, while Denis Zakaria, on loan from Juventus, made his league debut.

Bournemouth had it easy by comparison, with just Kieffer Moore and Chris Mepham in Qatar. The blow of the latter missing out with illness was softened with Lloyd Kelly returning from a nearly four-month absence.

But while the Premier League has slept, the Cherries have been active. Gary O’Neill’s interim managerial success earned him an 18-month contract, while he now ultimately reports to Billy Foley after the American’s consortium completed its much-anticipated takeover.

O’Neill was never supposed to be anything more than a stop-gap, but has been quietly impressive in his first role. Much like he was as a player, really.

If Chelsea were weakened by absent faces – among them Hakim Ziyech and Mateo Kovacic – it did not show. They settled confidently into their work, neat triangles of passing everywhere, with James’s every touch cheered.

An early penalty appeal was waved away when Christian Pulisic burst into the area with Adam Smith clinging, albeit lightly, to his shirt. Pulisic stayed up to get his shot away, and was joined on his feet by Cheslea’s entire bench. VAR said no. One of those “anywhere else it’s a foul” moments, and given Smith was not attempting to play the ball, it might have had serious consequences.

Fortunately, it soon became a moot point; Mason Mount slid in Raheem Sterling, whose inch-perfect first-time cross had Kai Havertz sliding to poke past Mark Travers. Potter’s hands shot from his pockets to pummel the air with gusto. Relief.

Eight minutes later Chelsea doubled their lead. This time Havertz turned provider, recycling a loose ball to tee up Mount. On his 150th Chelsea start, his 20-yard, superb, low curler nestled in the corner.

The entirety of Stamford Bridge believed Chelsea had a third but Potter’s celebration of Pulisic’s finish quickly turned to remonstrance when the referee Simon Hooper penalized the American.

The fruits of Bournemouth’s sorry opening half were a Philip Billing free-kick that Kepa Arrizabalaga dealt with comfortably despite the slippery surface. Full marks for effort but they could barely get a touch.

James’s combination with Raheem Sterling, who hugged the right touchline, was simply too much for them. Many present ought to have uttered the words “if only” as both tested Travers in first-half stoppage time.

Chelsea’s performance level barely dropped after the match restarted, but sadly their hearts did.

With eyes elsewhere, James went down, his face covered by his hands. A hush descended as James lay still. Everyone present knew what it meant. “Reece James, he’s one of our own,” echoed around the ground. The full-back at least headed down the tunnel unaided, but his expression was desolate.

Even without his right-flank partner though, Sterling continued to dazzle. Direct, poised and electric, his mazy run deserved better than the finish an open-bodied Havertz offered. Then, perhaps inspired by Sterling, Mount flew forward, bringing a smart save from Travers.

That Bournemouth caused a few late jitters was largely owed to Chelsea’s sloppiness. Arrizabalaga blocked substitute Ryan Christie’s shot, and several times Potter kicked the floor in frustration.

Job done. On to the next one.

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