Chelsea returned to action in style, ending a run of five winless Premier League (PL) matches with a comfortable 2-0 victory over AFC Bournemouth.
A goal and assist from Kai Havertz were enough to see the Blues take three points, and close a widening gap behind the European qualification berths.
The FIFA World Cup (FWC) came at a good time for Chelsea, considering they had lost three straight games in all competitions before the winter break.
Not since 1993 had they been defeated four times on the trot, and the Blues were in no mood to rewrite history tonight, going in front shortly after the quarter-hour mark.
Clearly not affected by Germany’s early elimination in Qatar, Havertz instinctively put the finishing touch to a quick move that involved fellow FWC callups Mason Mount and Raheem Sterling.
Chelsea’s first PL goal since October was met with suitable volume around Stamford Bridge, and Graham Potter’s men doubled their lead soon after.
This time, a scrap just inside the penalty area saw the ball fall to Mount, who curled a pinpoint effort into the corner, leaving the visiting custodian Mark Travers with no chance.
Though he was visibly aggrieved to have let in two goals so quickly, his stops were also essential in denying Sterling and England teammate Reece James, who could have given the hosts a much more prominent lead at the interval.
But disaster struck the latter man at the beginning of the second period. This was James’ first outing since October when he suffered a knee injury, and that issue appeared to rear its ugly head as he went down unchallenged on the right flank.
Cesar Azpilicueta replaced him, and supporters will be hoping the substitution was just a precaution rather than an indication of something more serious.
As for the game itself, the Cherries enjoyed more possession after HT and were at least able to push their opponents backwards, but there was little in the way of dangerous chances.
Chelsea also had several chances to score the third goal, but Travers stopped Mount’s shot and Kalidou Koulibaly’s header was just wide.
Although they were unable to extend their advantage, it was a good night at the office for the home side, and they will now look to build up momentum.
Bournemouth, meanwhile, has now lost six of their last seven PL matches, leaving new permanent manager Gary O’Neill with an uphill task going into 2023.