Eden Hazard focus
Published 20/11/2016 | 18:01
Revitalised Eden Hazard once again played a pivotal role in Chelsea's sixth straight win at Middlesbrough which swept them to the top of the Premier League.
The 25-year-old's form had dipped alarmingly under Jose Mourinho last season to the extent that a move out of Stamford Bridge appeared to be on the cards.
But Hazard has looked a different man under new boss Antonio Conte and was central to almost all his side's attacking moves in a dominant display at the Riverside Stadium.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at his performance.
Conte has described Hazard as a "point of reference" for his side this season and that role was once again in evidence on Sunday, with Hazard effectively marshalling his team-mates in the final third of the field as he drifted in from the left and provided the prompts upon which Diego Costa and particularly Victor Moses were able to build. Hazard's influence was underlined midway through the first period in a delightful, delayed cross-field ball which set up a golden chance for Moses.
Constantly flitting across the full range of the final third, Hazard's movement caused constant problems for Boro defender Antonio Barragan, who coped relatively well with the thankless task of trying to restrain him. His desire on a wintry day in the north east was also evident in the way he shrugged off a clattering early challenge from Adam Clayton which left him temporarily requiring treatment.
Hazard had a direct impact in Costa's opener when he delivered the corner from which the Spaniard eventually managed to fire home. But his tally of assists could have been more impressive had Moses kept his nerve when sent through midway through the first half, and had Pedro's effort not been brilliantly finger-tipped away by Victor Valdes after Hazard had delivered another cross-field ball to tee up his team-mate moments later.
It is easy to see why Hazard's distinctly indifferent form last season coincided with a dismal run by Chelsea which ultimately cost Mourinho his job. Hazard has been given the time and space to thrive under Conte and is repaying his new boss's confidence in spades. Whilst relatively low-key, his influence at the Riverside Stadium merely served to underline his importance to his team if they are to maintain their place at the top of the pile.