Sunday 17 December 2017

'Humble star' Hazard puts title in Blues' grasp

Chelsea 1-0 Manchester Utd

Chelsea’s Belgian midfielder Eden Hazard (L) attempts an acrobatic shot
Chelsea’s Belgian midfielder Eden Hazard (L) attempts an acrobatic shot

Mark Ogden

In the end, it came down to one No 10 doing what he excels at and the other being diverted to a firefighting role elsewhere, so it should be no surprise that Eden Hazard eclipsed Wayne Rooney to edge Chelsea one step closer to the Premier League title.

Three more victories will be enough to secure Chelsea's fourth championship in 10 years after Hazard's 38-minute goal proved enough to end Manchester United's six-game winning streak in the league.

The title will inevitably be Chelsea's and Hazard, the 24-year-old Belgian, is an equally dominant front-runner in the race for the Footballer of the Year awards.

In a game which was largely dominated by United, Hazard's ability to make the most of his chance exposed the failure of Rooney and Radamel Falcao to prove similarly ruthless with theirs, but the playmaker has done that all season long and has become, according to Mourinho, "fundamental" to Chelsea's ambitions.

"He is getting strong," Mourinho said of the former Lille player. "Physically and mentally, he is getting very, very strong. He understands his role. The day before the game I told him: 'This game we will never lose. Never.'

"But we needed to win. He understands clearly that, especially in a moment where the team doesn't have all its power, he understands when the game becomes strategic.

"He understands that his talent is fundamental for the team. He was there for us and almost a second goal when he hit the post.

"I have had lots of stars. Hopefully in every club I worked, I had stars, but he is the humble star, yes. He is the humble star."

It seems a world away from late 2013, when Mourinho dropped Hazard from a Champions League match for missing training after the player took an unauthorised trip to France, where he lost his passport.

Having been nominated for both the PFA Player of the Year and Young Player awards, Hazard could conceivably walk away with both when the winners are announced on Sunday, but Mourinho insists the priority for player and club is to ensure the Premier League is secured as quickly as possible.


"I want Eden Hazard to be champion," Mourinho said. "And this (players' award) on top of that, people wants to be fair, he gets that award. But the award I want him to win is the Premier League. I want that as soon as possible, but if it's in the last game, it's in the last game.

"We don't go to Arsenal or to Leicester with the obsession of 'it has to be today.'

"If it's not to be today, we need to win this title, this title is very close, so we need to close this with eight points."

But for United's wayward finishing, however, Chelsea may have been approaching Sunday's trip to Arsenal with apprehension and the fear of becoming embroiled in a late three-way tussle for the title.

Rooney's early miss, when he clipped a left-foot shot wide from the edge of the penalty area, was followed by two good chances spurned by Falcao in the second half.

The injuries to Michael Carrick and Daley Blind, which forced Louis van Gaal to deploy Rooney in midfield, hurt United by diminishing their captain's powers.

Having been forced to vacate the centre-forward position to solve a personnel crisis, Rooney was unable to provide the cutting edge which Hazard offered to Chelsea.

And in Rooney's place, Falcao lacked the pace or strength to influence the game. The Colombian arrived at United on loan from Monaco last September with a reputation as one of the game's great predators, but he will return to Monte Carlo next month as a busted flush.

United may have been awarded a penalty deep into stoppage-time when Ander Herrera went to ground following a challenge by Gary Cahill, but referee Mike Dean correctly rejected the appeals before booking Herrera for diving.

Herrera, however, was one of several United players who impressed at Stamford Bridge, with teenage defenders Luke Shaw and Paddy McNair also standing out to offer optimism for next season.

On the evidence of this game, the same fixture next season has the potential to be a title decider and Rooney insists that United can take many positives from Stamford Bridge.

"I thought the performance was excellent," Rooney said. "We dominated from start to finish and are disappointed not to get anything out of the game.

"It is tough to take after a good performance, but we can leave here with our heads held high. We've come here and absolutely dominated the football match.

"I think we have to take confidence from the result because I've rarely seen a team come to Stamford Bridge and dominate so much." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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