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First team

Match pack: Chelsea (H)

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

AFC Bournemouth host Carabao Cup finalists and Premier League high-fliers Chelsea at Vitality Stadium tonight (7.45pm).

Story of the Blues' season so far

With Liverpool and Manchester City blazing a trail at the top of the Premier League, Chelsea will be hoping for a strong finish to the season in an attempt to gate-crash the title race.

Despite losing the FA Community Shield to City in Maurizio Sarri’s first game at the helm, the early signs looked good as the Blues claimed maximum points from their opening five Premier League matches.

However, a 0-0 draw at West Ham in September saw them toppled from the summit, with Liverpool and City climbing above them.

Matchweek 13 proved unlucky for Chelsea as they surrendered their unbeaten record, with Tottenham replacing them in the top three after triumphing 3-1 at Wembley.

And although they became the first team to lower City’s colours in the Premier League this season, Chelsea’s 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge had been preceded by a surprise 2-1 defeat at Wolves three days previously.

Subsequent defeats by Leicester in December and against Arsenal at the Emirates in their last league outing earlier this month have seen them slip further off the pace.

Sarri will be hoping the recent arrival of master marksman Gonzalo Higuain on loan from Juventus will help revive their title ambitions, the pair having been reunited following a successful time together at Napoli.

Although their Premier League challenge has faltered somewhat, Chelsea have fared well in cup competitions having progressed to the final of the Carabao Cup, the round of 32 of the Europa League and the fifth round of the FA Cup.

Last time out

Chelsea 3-0 Sheffield Wednesday

The FA Cup holders brushed aside Championship opposition to set up a fifth-round showdown with Premier League rivals Manchester United at Stamford Bridge.

New loan signing Gonzalo Higuain was handed his debut by Maurizio Sarri following his arrival from Juventus, while wonderkid Callum Hudson-Odoi also started.

Wednesday correctly had a penalty decision rescinded by the video assistant referee before Willian converted from the spot after Sam Hutchinson had fouled Cesar Azpilicueta midway through the first half.

Winger Hudson-Odoi capped a fine individual showing by doubling Chelsea’s lead with a clinical finish in the 64th minute before Willian, who starred for the Blues, completed the scoring after being teed up by Olivier Giroud’s layoff.

2018-19 top scorer

Eden Hazard (13 goals in all competitions)

The manager

Maurizio Sarri, who replaced Antonio Conte in the Stamford Bridge hot-seat in July, did not play football professionally.

A central defender, he played as an amateur and coached while working as a banker. He had failed trials at Torino and Fiorentina before going on to manage a host of lower-league Italian clubs.

His big break came when he was appointed coach of Serie B club Empoli in June 2012, leading them to fourth place and the play-off final, which they lost to local rivals Livorno, in his first season.

The following season, he guided Empoli to promotion to Serie A and kept them in the top flight in 2014/15.

He replaced Rafa Benitez at Napoli in June 2015, steering them to runners-up spot behind Juventus in Serie A.

Sarri was voted the league’s coach of the year after Napoli had finished third the following season and again took them to second place behind Juventus in 2017/18.

Renowned for his intelligence, tactical acumen, attention to detail and meticulous approach, Sarri, who turned 60 earlier this month, was observed by Eddie Howe during his time at Empoli following the Cherries’ promotion to the Premier League.

Key stats (ahead of Matchweek 13)

  1. Richard Cooke was on target when the Cherries met Chelsea for the first time, his goal earning the hosts a 1-0 win in the second tier in September 1988.
  2. Cooke, Tommy Elphick and Joshua King are the only three Cherries players to have scored against the Blues at Dean Court.
  3. The Cherries have won twice at Stamford Bridge (2015, 2018), Chelsea have triumphed in all three Premier League meetings at Vitality Stadium.
  4. Chelsea boast no fewer than five players in the top ten of attempted passes in the Premier League this season, including Jorginho (2,077) who has made the most. The others are Antonio Rudiger (1,873), David Luiz (1,749), Cesar Azpilicueta (1,613) and Marcos Alonso (1,449).
  5. Chelsea have kept ten clean sheets this season compared with six for the Cherries.
  6. Chelsea, ever present in the Premier League since its inception in 1992 and winners on five occasions, have recorded 551 victories and 219 defeats.
  7. Eden Hazard (10) tops the Premier League assists table with the Cherries’ Ryan Fraser just one behind.
  8. Callum Wilson and Eden Hazard are joint-fourth leading goalscorers in the Premier League with ten.

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