Diego Costa and Chelsea breathe a sigh of relief
Eden Hazard back to his best as champions pick up a badly-needed three points
Eden Hazard of Chelsea and Youssouf Mulumbu of Norwich City in action during the Premier League match at Stamford Bridge. Photo: Paul Gilham/Getty
Chelsea 1 Norwich City 0
There was something novel about Eden Hazard being able to leave this arena with a smile of satisfaction plastered across his face. So much of a dismal title defence to date has had the Belgian skulking away, perplexed by his own failings as much as those of a team of recent champions. Now a slender victory over a promoted side has fuelled talk of recovery.
“I hope this is the start, yes,” he offered before listing, unprompted, the next few fixtures. His eagerness to use this win as a platform was clear.
Chelsea have finally sparked their game of catch-up. Rewind a year and they had rattled up 33 points from their opening unbeaten 13 games and it will take similarly startling form if they are to haul in a distant top four, currently specks on the horizon a daunting 12 points away.
Yet this team’s capabilities make that far from an outlandish proposition and that made this narrow win a source of encouragement. Key players have offered signs of promise.
Diego Costa must build on a first goal in a month with his winner slickly taken. Cesc Fabregas, whose assist was sharply executed, has to crank up that much missed conveyor belt of chances to the forward ranks. Nemanja Matic, all leggy aggression, must keep imposing himself in the centre having appeared diminished for months.
And then there was Hazard. The side’s playmaker-in-chief has rediscovered his spark in recent weeks, one anaemic display against Liverpool aside, and was back to his scuttling best, galloping upfield with the ball at his feet.
Saturday finally brought reward to ensure a team who won the league with something to spare in May have leapfrogged Norwich into 15th place.
The visitors could draw heart from a rugged defensive display, bemoan the non-award of a penalty when Willian barged Robbie Brady and curse John Terry’s excellent block which denied Sebastien Bassong.
Ultimately they were undone by a lapse of concentration at a free-kick and a lack of bite across their own front line. Alex Neil will look to address that in January but, before then, there is no respite with Arsenal, Everton, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur awaiting in their next five games. Theirs has been a brutal run.
“But we drew at Liverpool, lost narrowly at Manchester City and arguably should have got a point, and then had a few opportunities at Chelsea, should have had a penalty and only lost 1-0,” said Neil. “So it’s not as though we are being dominated. We are competitive in games. We have done okay .”
Chelsea, for their part, can take solace from Hazard’s revival. They travelled to Israel yesterday looking to seal progress into the Champions League knockout stages.
This cannot prove to be another false dawn.