April 20, 2016

Chelsea can probably thank Barcelona for hogging all the losing-streak headlines across Europe this week. The Catalans' shocking fall combined with what's become a season of expected disappointment from the Blues has buried the fact that it's the English club needing a win to avoid their first three-match losing streak in more than 16 years.

Barcelona had done so as recently as two years ago.

The Blues' first match since being formally eliminated from Champions League contention for the first time in 13 years comes Saturday at Bournemouth, who can match Chelsea's point total if they're able to hand the Blues another defeat.

It seems Chelsea's Premier League season could end as it began, placing dreadful bookends on a 15-match unbeaten streak that's in retrospect going to function as little more than a diversion.

Though the club dropped three straight Premier League contests from Oct. 24-Nov. 7, that span was broken up by their shootout departure from the League Cup to Stoke City - officially a 1-1 draw. Three straight losses haven't happened in all competitions for Chelsea since losing at Liverpool, home to Arsenal and at Derby County in October 1999.

After last Saturday's 3-0 defeat to Manchester City at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea (11-11-11) are also in danger of their highest top-flight loss total since dropping 15 in 1997-98. It followed a 1-0 loss at Swansea City, so they're also flirting with going goalless in at least three straight Premier League matches for the first time since September 2007.

But it's hardly shocking with interim manager Guus Hiddink blooding the squad's youth with nothing tangible left to play for. Europa League qualification isn't yet mathematically impossible, but the chances are very slim. And there's no guarantee incoming manager Antonio Conte would want his weeks saturated with those fixtures as Chelsea try for an immediate return to the top four.

"I always go for the highest position so as a consequence you can play in Europe," Hiddink told the club's official website. "You would have to ask (Conte and his staff) if they want to have some more time to prepare the team. On the other hand, if you have a full preparation time from, let's say, five or six weeks before the start of the season, you can do a lot also."

He's getting a head start on that in terms of giving young players experience with Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Baba Rahman starting three successive matches, while Bertrand Traore, Kenedy and Matt Miazga have also been involved more in varying capacities.

Thibaut Courtois won't be involved in any way after the goalkeeper was shown a 78th-minute red card for a takedown of Fernandinho on a clear goal-scoring opportunity against Manchester City. It was his second red of the season, so the Belgian will miss the next two matches as rumours persist of his summer departure.

Chelsea, 10th in the table on 41 points, lead Bournemouth (11-8-15) by three points with a match in hand. The Cherries are 13th and have only a 2-1 win over foot-of-the-table Aston Villa two weeks ago to show for their points over the last four matches.

They followed it up with a 2-1 loss to Liverpool on Sunday, falling behind 2-0 by halftime before Joshua King's stoppage-time goal.

"As the home team, we didn't get near their goal enough," manager Eddie Howe told the club's official website. "We gifted them possession and the game got away from us.

"In the last 30 minutes we grew into the game and ended well with the goal. The subs made a real impact and if we had got the goal earlier, we could have maybe made more of a contest of it. ... But I wouldn't say we deserved anything. We conceded two soft goals."

It was Callum Wilson's second straight substitute appearance, with the forward seeing his first minutes since September due to a knee injury. But with little at stake, Howe hinted his minutes could remain limited. Wilson - who had five goals in the first six matches of the season before tearing his ACL - scored a combined 41 goals in league play over the past two seasons with 2013-14 Coventry City in League One and Bournemouth in the Championship last season.

"It's great to have him back," Howe said. "We need to protect him at this moment and work him back. He's still got a lot of work to do. We'll wait and see how he looks in training to see if he can start. The most important thing is to protect him longer term than for the here and now."

The reverse fixture was a 1-0 Bournemouth win at the Bridge on Dec. 5 as Glenn Murray scored in the 82nd minute, just two minutes after subbing on.

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