On a miserable night at Dean Court, Chelsea slumped to an incredible 4-0 defeat to Bournemouth thanks to goals from Josh King (2), David Brooks and Charlie Daniels.
The inquest into Maurizio Sarri’s reign will be ramped up further over the next few days with Chelsea’s top-four hopes having suffered a huge blow.
That Gonzalo Higuain failed to open his account for his new side on his Premier League debut, only made things worse. A disappointing evening for Higuain was compounded when he was taken off after 65 minutes, less than 120 seconds after Brooks’ smart finish had doubled Bournemouth’s advantage.
To say it was an unpopular decision with the visiting supporters would be an understatement. A chorus of boos went up from the Chelsea end after Higuain’s name was read out by the PA announcer followed swiftly by a rendition of ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ towards the beleaguered man in the dugout.
Higuain endured a difficult first half of the season on loan at AC Milan but if he expected things to be plain-sailing in comparison at Stamford Bridge, this game will have provided a major wake-up call.
Chelsea have plenty to do to seal a top-four place and they will need to get Higuain firing quickly… Gonzalo Higuain was well marshalled by Bournemouth’s defence in the first half. Higuan delivered a subdued showing against Sheffield Wednesday on his debut last Sunday and again was quiet in the first half of his Premier League bow at Bournemouth, failing to have a shot on target in the opening 45 minutes despite his team having five in total.
His 25 touches in the opening period was comfortably the lowest of Chelsea’s outfield performers – Emerson had the second-fewest with 44 – although his link-up play did show signs of promise as he helped knit together a couple of intricate one-two moves.
Overall, though, Bournemouth dealt with him pretty comfortably. While Higuain struggled to get involved, his teammates were also guilty of failing to find his runs.
Early on in the second half, Higuain escaped the attentions of Steve Cook and made a dash down the left-hand channel into space yet Emerson’s pass into him lacked accuracy and trickled through to Artur Boruc.
Moments later, Higuain’s frustration was made evident when he threw his hands up into the air in exasperated fashion after N’Golo Kante’s attempted pass through to him had been cut out by a covering Bournemouth defender.
And when Chelsea did find a way through Bournemouth’s stubborn banks of four, Higuain wasn’t there to capitalise. He was caught on his heels in the first-half when Cesar Azpilicueta’s slick cut-back across the six-yard-box was begging to be tapped home.
Then in the second half, he was a spectator as Pedro dinked a delightful ball over the defence towards the penalty spot for Kante to latch onto only for the Frenchman to make a mess of his first touch and allow Boruc to claim.
Had someone with Higuain’s killer touch been there instead of Kante, the end result may well have been different. Ultimately, it was a night of frustration for Higuain and one of desperation for his new side.
Chelsea’s new number nine had the fewest touches of any of the 22 starting players (29) on the pitch, he failed to have a shot on target or any effort for that matter, he didn’t create a chance, complete a dribble or win an aerial duel. He did very little.
Higuain didn’t influence the game in any way yet on a night in which Chelsea lost a Premier League game by a four-goal margin for the first time since 1996 and only the second time in the competition’s history, it would be harsh to blame their new striker for such an embarrassing defeat.
Indeed, Higuain’s struggles were reminiscent of Alvaro Morata’s and Olivier Giroud’s earlier on in this season. For all the pretty football Chelsea have played since ‘Sarri-ball’ was imposed on the players they do lack a cutting edge in attack. They still rely on moments of individual inspiration to get their goals.
Higuain’s move to Chelsea may well work out. Few strikers in European football possess such intelligent movement than Higuain while his spell under Sarri at Napoli demonstrated fully how deadly he can be in front of goal.
That Sarri finally has a striker he trusts implicitly means Eden Hazard is back in his natural and best position too. But on a night when there was no positives to be taken for the Blues, the only good thing is that it surely can’t get any worse, both for them and their shiny new striker.