Chelsea saved by Alonso vs. Bournemouth though their grip on fourth place is far from solid
BOURNEMOUTH, England -- There was a sense of inevitability about both Chelsea goals in their 2-2 draw at Bournemouth, which is not something that has been said very much about them in recent weeks. The visitors' 33rd-minute opener at a windy Vitality Stadium rewarded a spell of mounting pressure, with Marcos Alonso following in to score the first of his two goals after Olivier Giroud's typically inventive near-post volley from Reece James's cross came back off the crossbar.
Chelsea's second goal, five minutes from the end of normal time, also felt as if it had been coming, albeit for different reasons. Having shipped two goals in quick succession early in the second half, they had no option but to the throw the kitchen sink at their hosts. With Bournemouth's entire team hemmed inside their own 18-yard box, Pedro's shot on the turn was parried by Aaron Ramsdale, and Alonso darted in ahead of Ryan Fraser to head in a precious equaliser.
Both of Alonso's efforts were "striker's goals" given the technique and confidence with which he struck. The wing-back threatened to complete his hat trick in stoppage time, though his header from Cesar Azpilicueta's deep cross bounced wide of Ramsdale's right-hand post. Having also found the net with an exquisite first-time strike in last weekend's 2-1 win over Tottenham, Alonso has now scored three times in two league games, while his tally of 19 goals since the beginning of the 2016-17 campaign makes him comfortably the most prolific defender in the English top flight.
Prior to the victory over Spurs, 10 of Chelsea's previous 12 league goals had been scored from set pieces. Frank Lampard's flaky team are not a side boasting attacking menace in every area of the pitch, and with top scorer Tammy Abraham and Christian Pulisic currently sidelined by injury, it's been hard to know from where the goals are going to come. With Alonso on the pitch, it becomes less of a conundrum.
Despite the Spaniard's goal threat, he has struggled to earn Lampard's trust. Prior to the matches against Tottenham and Bournemouth, Alonso had not started back-to-back league games since mid-October. For much of the English winter, the 29-year-old didn't even feature in Chelsea's match-day squads, with Lampard explaining only that he was basing his team selection on what he saw in training.
As was the case with Giroud, who went two-and-a-half months without so much as kicking a ball in the league before his recent return to action, the suspicion is that Alonso fell victim to a young manager's desire to impose himself at a new club by outlining a philosophy and sidelining any player who didn't fit. With Giroud having also found the net against Spurs, Lampard may belatedly have come to appreciate the benefits of a little pragmatism. Not that he was prepared to admit to any regrets regarding his treatment of Alonso.
"It's an easy question, with hindsight," he said. "Marcos did play some games earlier in the season. We've had the emergence of Reece James, who's been really, really good for us this season. I have to try and find balance and sometimes it affects the system that you play. So there are different reasons why I have to pick the team. There are no regrets. I'm always working on trying to get the best for each game and I'm pleased with how Marcos has come back in."
The worry with Alonso has always been to do with what happens in his team's defensive third and against Bournemouth, he was occasionally found wanting in that respect. An early chance for Philip Billing, who drew a sharp save from Chelsea goalkeeper Willy Caballero, came after Jack Stacey had run in behind Alonso and the goal that put the home side in front, tapped in by Josh King, stemmed from an almost identical run by the same player. The second Bournemouth goal arrived only three minutes after Jefferson Lerma had equalised with a 54th-minute header and in the minutes that followed, Eddie Howe's men laid siege to Caballero's goal and a sudden hailstorm plunged the ground into darkness.
The visitors' jitters did not subside until Willian and Ross Barkley entered the fray with 26 minutes remaining, a double substitution that allowed Chelsea to resume control of the game. Avoiding defeat against Bournemouth, a side that had won three of the previous four league meetings between the teams, spared Lampard's men from a second damaging loss in five days, but with Chelsea having now gone four away league games without victory in the same campaign for the first time since 2015, their form on the road is beginning to resemble their problematic form at Stamford Bridge.
While Chelsea remain in fourth place, there are now four teams -- Manchester United, Tottenham, Sheffield United and Wolves -- within six points of them, and all of them have a game in hand. As Lampard intimated, if they are to succeed in securing a Champions League place for next season, it will take more than Alonso's goals to get them there. But take his goals out of the equation over the past two games and the situation would be even more foreboding.