Sunday 22 September 2019

Hazard pulls the strings to keep Blues in title race

Brighton 1 Chelsea 2

Eden Hazard leaves Brighton’s Dale Stephens trailing in his wake. Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville
Eden Hazard leaves Brighton’s Dale Stephens trailing in his wake. Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville

Matt Law

For the first 15 minutes, Eden Hazard was all arms outstretched and frustration. For the next 30 minutes, he was just about unplayable and that was enough for Chelsea.

Fortunately, it was Hazard's impact and not the actions or chants of any Chelsea supporters that left a lasting impression, following a week of shame for the Stamford Bridge club.

The victory over Manchester City had been overshadowed by the alleged racist abuse aimed at Raheem Sterling and there was anti-Semitic chanting heard at the Europa League victory over Vidi.

But, thankfully, the visiting fans in Brighton behaved themselves and it was a brilliant half-hour from Hazard, who limped off near the end with a sore ankle, that provided Sunday's talking point.

Deployed for a second successive match as a 'false nine' with Alvaro Morata out injured and Olivier Giroud on the substitutes' bench, Hazard scored his first goal in 12 games for club and country and added a ninth assist in all competitions for Chelsea.

"Eden is OK," said head coach Maurizio Sarri. "It's only a knock, only a knock. I spoke with the doctor five minutes ago and it's not a big problem. Maybe one day to rest, two days at most.

Willian shoots at goal from a free kick. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge
Willian shoots at goal from a free kick. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge

"I think that, for us, he could be very important in this position. He's very able to come out and play with his team-mates, very able to create spaces. Now I think that, in that position, he has to improve in attacking the box."

Hazard had cut an annoyed figure with both his team-mates and the opposition after spending the majority of the opening stages chasing lost causes or being fouled.

But once he started to roam and the rest of the Chelsea team stopped trying to play the ball into his feet everything started to click. He dropped deep, pulled out to the left and sniffed out opportunity in much the same way N'Golo Kante senses danger.

It was in the 17th minute that Hazard properly came to life, when he turned provider for Pedro by picking up the loose ball from his own blocked shot, riding a couple of challenges and finding his team-mate to score at the back post.

Chelsea's Ross Barkley leaps over a challenge from Martin Montoya. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
Chelsea's Ross Barkley leaps over a challenge from Martin Montoya. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Crucially for Chelsea, even while Hazard was not scoring, he was still making goals, but his barren run was about to come to an end - thanks in part to some terrible play by the hosts.

Curl

Leon Balogun passed the ball straight to Willian, who immediately sent Hazard through on goal. Rather than curl a shot inside Matt Ryan's left-hand post, the 27-year-old pulled the ball into the opposite corner of the net. It was a wonderful finish and the latest of example of how Hazard thinks differently to most players.

It is hard to see Morata forcing Sarri into a rethink any time soon, while Giroud seems to be viewed as an option from the bench or for the cup competitions.

Chelsea's Jorginho goes to ground after a tackle from Glenn Murray. Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville
Chelsea's Jorginho goes to ground after a tackle from Glenn Murray. Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville

It was the Frenchman who replaced Hazard in the 84th minute after a quieter second-half from Chelsea's star man, but his impact had been enough to clinch all three points, despite the home side pulling a goal back and applying some late pressure that annoyed Sarri.

Chelsea should have been out of sight before Solly March reacted quicker than David Luiz to hit the net for Brighton on 65 minutes. (©Daily Telegraph, London).

Solly March gets a goal back for Brighton late on. Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville
Solly March gets a goal back for Brighton late on. Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville

Telegraph.co.uk

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