Hazard heroics take Chelsea top
Eden Hazard's stunning season continued as he fired Chelsea to the top of the Barclays Premier League with a hat-trick in a 3-0 defeat of Newcastle at Stamford Bridge.
The tactical brilliance of Jose Mourinho was lauded following Monday's 1-0 win at Manchester City and Hazard's excellence was the difference against the Magpies as the Blues made light of the absence for the first time this season of captain John Terry.
Hazard netted his 10th and 11th Premier League goals of the season in the first period before converting a second-half penalty after Samuel Eto'o had been wrestled to the ground by Magpies substitute Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa at a corner.
For all Mourinho's protestations that his side are third favourites behind Manchester City and Arsenal this season, their challenge appears strong and they moved to the summit as both of their rivals dropped points on Saturday.
Chelsea have lost just once since losing at Newcastle in early November and in Hazard have a player who can cut through any team.
Hazard, more than most, has embraced the work ethic demanded by Mourinho, but the team mindset has only served to improve the all-round game of the Belgian.
The latest victory came without Terry, who missed his first Premier League minutes of the season as a precaution due to a muscular strain but could be back for Tuesday's match at West Brom.
It was the Baggies who came closest to ending Mourinho's unbeaten home record in the Premier League, which now stands at 73 games, but now there is a steel about Chelsea and their unbeaten run in all competitions stands at 10 matches, eight of them featuring clean sheets.
Mourinho accused his side of complacency following the loss at St James' Park and the hosts switched off to allow Luuk de Jong a half-chance seconds into his first Newcastle start, only for Nemanja Matic to snuff out the opportunity.
Shots from Hazard and twice from Frank Lampard peppered Tim Krul's goal, but the visitors had chances, too, as Moussa Sissoko fired over and Hatem Ben Arfa hit straight at Petr Cech.
Ben Arfa fancied himself up against his ex-Marseille team-mate Cesar Azpilicueta and ran at the Spaniard before firing another effort which Cech gathered at the second attempt.
Mathieu Debuchy was struggling with an apparent calf problem after landing awkwardly, making his task of taming Hazard all the more difficult.
Yanga-Mbiwa replaced him after 40 minutes, but the Belgian had done the damage by then.
The first goal came when Hazard roamed in field before spreading the ball wide to rampaging right-back Branislav Ivanovic.
Ivanovic played a return pass which Hazard swept into the bottom corner with a first-time shot.
Newcastle had a chance to equalise when Sissoko breached the Chelsea rearguard, but a heavy first touch, combined with an alert Cech, denied the Magpies midfielder a shot on goal.
The missed opportunity proved all the more costly when Chelsea broke quickly and to devastating effect.
Willian found the overlapping Hazard, who cut in and on to his favoured right foot before slipping a pass to Eto'o.
Eto'o had his back to goal but improvised to return the pass with a neat backheel which allowed Hazard to pass the ball into the far corner without breaking stride. It was a stylish finish to a breathtaking move.
De Jong had a header at the back post from Sissoko's cross saved by Cech before Hazard shot over as he tried to claim his first Chelsea hat-trick inside the first half.
Luiz's long ball forward early in the second half flummoxed Krul, who slipped outside his area and was relieved to see the ball outrun Oscar and go out.
Mike Williamson did enough to put off Eto'o as the striker met Ivanovic's cross before Hazard was felled by Yanga-Mbiwa wide on Chelsea's left.
The substitute was booked and Lampard's free-kick was palmed over by Krul, with Chelsea's third coming from the resulting corner.
Yanga-Mbiwa rugby tackled Eto'o at the back post and referee Howard Webb pointed to the spot. Hazard sent Krul the wrong way to complete his hat-trick.
Mourinho introduced Demba Ba against his former side and Mohamed Salah came on for his debut before Hazard made way for Andre Schurrle to a rousing ovation.
Salah shot wide and then was denied by Krul and Newcastle substitute Sylvain Marveaux fluffed a late chance.