Hazard lights up Stamford Bridge as Chelsea move up to third

Belgian playmaker scores twice in inspired performance against West Ham

 Chelsea’s Eden Hazard fires home the opening goal in  the  Premier League  match against  West Ham  at Stamford Bridge. Photograph: Will Oliver/EPA

Chelsea’s Eden Hazard fires home the opening goal in the Premier League match against West Ham at Stamford Bridge. Photograph: Will Oliver/EPA

 

Chelsea 2 West Ham 0

These are likely to be Eden Hazard’s final few months in Chelsea blue but, if displays as scintillating as this are an indication of his mood, then the Belgian is clearly determined to depart on a high.

The focus will inevitably be drawn to his stunning goals here, which would ultimately serve to thrust this team back into third place, but his had been an inspirational performance throughout. The kind which will be sorely missed in these parts.

West Ham United, initially so becalmed but a team who grew into the derby to prompt anxiety in the latter stages, charged four players with swarming around the winger at times in a bid to suppress his threat, but Hazard would not be stifled.

The forward was at his irrepressible best, his every touch spreading panic in opposing ranks while Chelsea’s fans cooed in awe of his ability. The 28-year-old will consider it his mission to secure Champions League football as a parting gift for this club. On this form, and with the team having summoned some momentum, he can still achieve that much.

The locals crammed into the lower tier of the Matthew Harding stand had unfurled a huge banner depicting Hazard’s trademark knee-sliding celebration before kick-off, a reminder – if required – that he will always be cherished in these parts for all his eagerness for a fresh challenge in Madrid.

Real, having initiated talks last month and apparently aspiring to do business at around £85 million, hope to speak with the Chelsea hierarchy again in the days ahead as they seek to strike a compromise over the fee that would finally lure the winger to the Bernabéu. Yet performances such as this will presumably drive the price far higher, even for a player whose deal expires in 2020.

Hazard, perhaps benefiting from the rests Maurizio Sarri has granted him, has been a figure revived of late, with all the fizz and purpose restored to his play. He revelled here in picking passes from deep to liberate Gonzalo Higuaín, who would strike Lukasz Fabianski’s post from an acute angle, or Callum Hudson-Odoi beyond the full backs. The weight and accuracy of the Belgian’s delivery to free the teenager beyond Aaron Cresswell just before the interval was stunning, and all conjured while on the move, with Fabianski doing well to turn the youngster’s shot over the bar.

It was a masterclass, with West Ham utterly unable to quell his threat wherever he secured possession on the pitch. Marko Arnautovic, an unconvincing right winger and even more suspect when tracking back to support his defence, resorted to shoulder barging the hosts’ No 10 off the ball in the area, though the referee waved away the penalty appeals. Yet, by then, Hazard had already supplied his 18th goal of the campaign, and one of the most jaw-dropping of his seven-year stint in England, to force the home side ahead.

There had appeared little danger when he collected the ball from Ruben Loftus-Cheek about 40 yards from West Ham’s goal. Yet, via a flick to kickstart his dart, he swerved away from a half-hearted Mark Noble and Declan Rice, the latter too far away to muster a challenge, with the zigzag between Angelo Ogbonna and Fabián Balbuena just inside the penalty area played out at breakneck speed.

The visitors had been sliced apart through their centre, the area of the team where they had expected to be at their most solid. Hazard had reached the penalty spot then dispatched his shot into the corner of the net before Ryan Fredericks, a fifth panicked opponent to litter his vapour trail, could slide in and suffocate the attempt.

The full back would prove more successful in deflecting a close-range volley from Higuaín beyond the far post before the break, but West Ham would still depart frazzled by the ferocity of the whole experience.

If Manuel Pellegrini’s selection had appeared bold, then their performance had been horribly anaemic, carrying little to no threat through that one-sided opening period. Javier Hernández, a regular scorer against Chelsea over the years, would be hauled off at the interval, with Manuel Lanzini and Felipe Anderson in a rejigged formation duly forcing Kepa Arrizabalaga into smart saves early in the second half. Aaron Cresswell’s piledriver, launched across the goalkeeper and just beyond the far post, would not have been saved.

Yet the frenetic nature of the contest had alarmed Sarri on the bench, with his own team’s inability to supply a second from their clear-cut openings – Hazard, the substitute Olivier Giroud late on and the otherwise excellent Loftus-Cheek, twice, might have converted – leaving the Italian patrolling his technical area anxiously.

That profligacy left the majority on edge and it would take Emerson’s touch to turn an Arnautovic header round the post with Chelsea suddenly uncertain at the back, heaving to contain the visitors’ late urgency in pursuit of parity. But West Ham’s goal would not come and, as a pulsating contest drifted into its last minute, there was Hazard to collect Ross Barkley’s pass and drill a second into the corner. – Guardian

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