Sunday 8 December 2019

Hazard strikes a blow for the little guy as Chelsea's search for a target man rumbles on

Scintillating: Eden Hazard. Photo: Reuters/Hannah Mckay
Scintillating: Eden Hazard. Photo: Reuters/Hannah Mckay

Sam Dean

Perhaps it is time to call off the search. As Chelsea's increasingly curious hunt for a target man continued last week, with attentions turning from Andy Carroll to Christian Benteke to Peter Crouch, it was the little men, and Eden Hazard in particular, who showed there may be no need to convert Stamford Bridge into the land of the giants.

This was, by some distance, Chelsea's best attacking performance of the season.

And as Hazard and Willian jinked and danced around the petrified Brighton defence in a 4-0 win, there was no argument to be made for sticking a lumbering target man in their way. Hazard, the scorer of the first and third goals, certainly did not think so.

"Football is simple," he said. "Keep the ball on the ground and try (to play) like we did."

In the absence of the suspended Alvaro Morata, it was Michy Batshuayi, heavily linked with a move away, who impressed as the third member of an electric front three that produced one of the finest goals of the season.

Willian's strike, Chelsea's second, was a triumph of speed: the speed of thought, the speed of the passing and the speed of the shot that seared into the corner of the net.

"I think we have two very good strikers in Alvaro and Michy," said Hazard.

"If they are not ready to play I can play striker, so I don't think we need (another striker).

"Because we are missing chances, people are saying we need another striker, but if we are scoring goals we are the best attack in the league and no one can say we need a striker," he added.

"It depends on the form of the team and I think we are happy with the team we have.

"Who is the best team this season? Manchester City. The strikers, (Gabriel) Jesus and (Sergio) Aguero, are not big.

"It's simple. It depends how you want to play. If you want to play with long balls you need a target man; if you want to keep the ball on the floor you need a small guy."

The Brighton rearguard had been resoundingly savaged by these small guys long before Victor Moses added a late fourth for the visitors.

At times, Brighton manager Chris Hughton looked as bewildered as his three central defenders.

"They have players in Hazard and Willian who, if they are not playing a classic No 9, can do wonderful jobs and be as effective because it is a different type of game," Hughton said.

"In some ways those type of players are more difficult to mark than your classic No 9s."

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte was unsurprisingly delighted with his forward players, even if he did not give the impression he was desperate to ensure Batshuayi remains part of his squad.

"In my idea of football, we need a striker who must be a point of reference," said Conte.

"Batshuayi played a really good game. He did not score, but he worked well for the team.

"For me, Michy is a Chelsea player and, in my mind, there is the will to continue to work with him and try to improve.

"But I don't know if the player decides to take another solution."

Despite the twinkling performances of Hazard and Willian, the scoreline felt harsh on a Brighton side who had caused problems for Chelsea and were unfortunate to be denied a penalty on two occasions.

Their struggles in front of goal continue, though, and only Swansea have scored fewer than Brighton's 17 goals in the Premier League this season.

The pressure will therefore be on £14m signing Jurgen Locadia, who joined last week from PSV Eindhoven, to quickly adjust to life on the south coast. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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