The first goalless draw of the season had to involve Chelsea, whose grand masterplan is producing far more questions than answers under Mauricio Pochettino.
The Premier League may have stood on the brink of history at the Vitality Stadium on Sunday afternoon, but the mistake of entrusting Chelsea to apply the finishing touch and guide us over the line was laid hilariously bare over 100 or so excruciating minutes.
Try as they might – and holy moly did the playthings of Boehly and Foley give it a go – there was nothing to separate two teams who had five points and three places between them at the end of last season. The record of 46 games from the start of a Premier League campaign without a goalless draw has merely been equalled. It is a sad day for Barclays. We go again next season.
— Premier League (@premierleague) September 17, 2023
The fixture supercomputer played an absolute blinder in serving this match up to ensure the utmost jeopardy. Nicolas Jackson and Dominic Solanke have 13 and 12 career top-flight goals respectively but their £50m worth of talent led the lines for two sides who couldn’t score for love nor, in particular, money.
Jackson hit a post. Raheem Sterling hammered a free-kick against the crossbar. Robert Sanchez swept like a luminescent Franz Beckenbauer. There were at least two goalmouth scrambles, numerous vague penalty area fumbles and countless existential crises. Max Aarons and Axel Disasi both fouled opponents on the edge of the area just to feel something.
It was a mid-table game between mid-table teams who started the day in 14th and 16th, ended last season in 12th and 15th and are enduring the growing pains of teams in transition after spending millions and appointing new managers in the summer. This is what happens when you welcome the most expensive footballer in Britain back from playing in the Bolivian exosphere by letting Lewis Cook chase him around for an hour and a half.
Enzo Fernandez only actually lasted 80 minutes and in that time achieved about as much as the rest of his teammates. There were some bright combinations between Mykhaylo Mudryk and Jackson on one side, as well as Malo Gusto, Conor Gallagher and Sterling on the other. But rarely were Bournemouth given reason to fear the humiliation of a second consecutive defeat to Chelsea.
Frank Lampard stressed the need to “be more killers at the top end of the pitch” after overseeing a 3-1 win over Gary O’Neil’s Cherries in May and while that underlines the sheer level of change at both clubs in the subsequent four months, it also emphasises how Chelsea’s problems are neither new nor easy to overcome.
Christopher Nkunku has been a huge loss to this side and that bench betrayed an injury list mounting by the week. Beyond the stifled laughs at how Chelsea can possibly spend £1billion to name six substitutes aged 21 or under and without a single Premier League appearance between them, that constant upheaval that is out of their control has meshed horribly with the turbulence they themselves have engineered.
Chelsea’s bench today has a combined total of 4,592 Premier League minutes for the club.
4,538 of those (98.8%) of those were by Ben Chilwell. pic.twitter.com/xaXxGGvctT
— GoalScorer Challenge ⚽️ (@GoalscorerC) September 17, 2023
It is simply a ludicrous squad. The starting line-up had two players aged over 25 – and an entire decade separates 28-year-old Raheem Sterling and Thiago Silva, a year and a week from turning 40. There is plenty to be said for stocking as much rising talent as possible but that cavernous peak void will breed issues with leadership and accountability.
When Cole Palmer, introduced as a late second-half substitute, bore down on goal against a retreating defence to conduct an attack to which Chelsea dedicated plenty of numbers, he delayed his decision before playing a pass slightly too far ahead of the supporting Sterling, whose cross was directed relatively harmlessly back by Palmer for Neto to save routinely.
Reductive as it is, it feels as though Palmer would simply take that situation by the scruff of the neck in a Manchester City shirt, curling a shot into the far top corner with ease. The weight of that Chelsea doubt has already consumed him like many others before.
It will all look better eventually and those green shoots are inevitably going to blossom but the question remains the same: how long will Mauricio Pochettino be given to cultivate this growth?