Hazard rides to the rescue for Chelsea to compound Newcastle's misery
Chelsea 2 Newcastle United 1
In a week that has seen their £58m striker offered around on loan and their brightest young star publicly courted by one of Europe's biggest clubs, how Chelsea supporters must be thankful for Eden Hazard.
The Belgium forward's contract expires at the end of next season and he could yet find himself at Real Madrid one day but he remains by far the most important player at Maurizio Sarri's disposal as the Italian struggles to impose himself on English football despite a promising start.
It took a moment of brilliance from Hazard to settle this match as he set up Willian to curl home from an acute angle. That ended Newcastle's hopes of a much-needed point after they had cancelled out Pedro's opener.
Watched by owner Mike Ashley as he continues to be frustrated in his attempts to sell the club, Rafael Benitez's side battled hard but were undone by a lack of quality in the final third.
Following their victory over Manchester City at the start of December, Chelsea had taken just one point from their last two home league games against Leicester and Southampton, failing to score in either. With Alvaro Morata out injured and potentially leaving on loan, Sarri once again turned to Hazard to lead the line as Callum Hudson-Odoi made way for Pedro on the right flank.
The 18-year-old - the subject of a £35m bid from Bayern Munich - has still to start a Premier League game and found himself on the bench despite impressing in both cup competitions. Unsurprisingly, given they have lost all of their last nine visits to top-six sides, Benitez opted for the safety-first approach with a five-man defence.
Ashley stayed away for more than a year before he showed up at Selhurst Park in September for the 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace. He then attended six matches in succession but has not been seen at a game since November, when news of a potential takeover led by former Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon first emerged.
Ashley was greeted with a chorus of disapproval from the away end inside the first 60 seconds of the match - a theme that continued throughout. But with his side starting the match in the bottom three following Southampton's win at Leicester, Benitez got off to a terrible start on his return to Stamford Bridge when David Luiz's brilliant long ball picked out Pedro's run and he calmly lobbed the ball over Martin Dubravka.
Yet, rather than take the game by the scruff of the neck, Chelsea did not create another real chance until Luiz's header flew wide in the 25th minute and were deservedly pegged back just before the break. Ayoze Perez served warning of Newcastle's threat when he raced on to Salomon Rondon's flick but poked his shot wide of the post. However, Ciaran Clark made no mistake with his thumping header from Matt Ritchie's corner.
Willian could have restored Chelsea's lead straight away but the Brazilian shot badly wide after another lobbed through ball from Jorginho. Having touched the ball less than any other Chelsea player in the first period, Hazard dropped deeper in an attempt to spark his side into life and the result was almost immediate. His interchange with Willian saw N'Golo Kante find space to set up Pedro for a shot, only for Dubravka to tip it wide of the post.
Christian Atsu had a good chance to head Newcastle in front but could not direct Ritchie's cross goalwards. It was to prove a costly miss. Pedro wasted another great chance from Marcos Alonso's cross but, after Newcast le failed to clear properly, Hazard pounced on the loose ball, wriggled past three markers and played in Willian to curl a sumptuous effort in off the far post.
The Brazilian then almost produced a carbon copy of Pedro's opener after yet another pinpoint pass from Luiz, only for Dubravka to foil him this time.
Hudson-Odoi was serenaded with chants imploring him to stay when he came on for Pedro 10 minutes from time. But Newcastle could easily have stolen the show had Rondon hit the target late on from Javier Manquillo's deep cross.
Sunday Indo Sport