Tame Huddersfield easily brushed aside by Chelsea
Antonio Conte’s side kept in touch with Manchester United with easy away win
Chelsea’s Pedro scores his side’s third goal in their Premier League win over Huddersfield Town. Photo: Nigel Roddis/EPA
Conceding the title early can sometimes backfire, and it would have been easy to imagine Antonio Conte’s players lacking the appetite for a wet night in west Yorkshire after hearing their manager admit Manchester City might be uncatchable, yet in the event Chelsea played like champions.
Huddersfield were outclassed, indeed a little fortunate not to be embarrassed, once Chelsea got into their smooth attacking stride. “The best team we’ve seem here all season,” was one opinion expressed over the PA at half-time, which is quite a compliment considering City have already been to these parts and won.
Predictably, Eden Hazard was the man Huddersfield found most difficult to pin down, though it was the visitors’ width and intelligent use of space that left the home side chasing shadows. The range and direction of Chelsea’s passing was almost unanswerable at times
Without Álvaro Morata, Chelsea lacked a focus to their attack, something it took them a while to realise. Hazard was notionally operating as the central forward in the visitors’ front three, though he was never going to reach some of the optimistic high balls that Marcos Alonso and Willian began by lobbing in his direction.
Huddersfield did have an attacking spearhead to aim for in the in-form Steve Mounié and in Aaron Mooy a midfielder who showed early on he could pick out team-mates with searching passes from halfway, yet when they went behind midway through the first half it was through a series of unforced errors in defence.
First, Mathias Zanka put his own goalkeeper under slight pressure with an awkward back pass, then Jonas Lössl slipped in the act of clearing the ball and only sent it 40 yards upfield to Victor Moses. The wing-back instinctively headed it back, and the neatest of touches from Hazard supplied Willian.
From then on it was the slickness with which Chelsea exploited the tiniest amount of uncertainty in the Huddersfield defence that was impressive. Willian waited as Tiemoué Bakayoko set off on a curving run into space behind Zanka and picked him out perfectly with a pass for the midfielder to complete an incisive move with a composed finish from a narrow angle. Chris Lowe attempted to clear off the line but misjudged the pace on the ball, collapsing in an untidy heap in goal and injuring himself in the process.
The knowledge that Chelsea could rip through them from virtually a standing start seemed to daunt the home side a little and they spent the rest of the first half in defensive mode.
Hazard might have created something when he cut in from the left but there was no one in the middle to meet his inviting low cross, then when N’Golo Kanté had a shooting opportunity just before the break his attempt from the edge of the area flew miles too high. Bakayko also had a chance to increase Chelsea’s lead before the interval when he put a header narrowly wide from Willian’s free kick, after Hazard’s trickery on the ball had exasperated Jon Hogg and Zanka to such an extent that the latter brought him down.
Huddersfield badly needed to reach the dressing room without conceding again, if only to regroup and regain their composure, yet they fell short by a couple of minutes. César Azpilicueta hit a marvellous crossfield pass to find Marcus Alonso in space on the left wing, so much space that looking up and picking out Willian for a free header in front of goal was almost a formality. While it was the type of goal that looked as if it ought to have been defended better, the sheer accuracy of Chelsea’s passing was giving Huddersfield little time to react.
The home side could even have turned round three goals in arrears but for Lössl doing well to save from Pedro, after Hazard had given his fellow forward a clear sight of goal. In the circumstances the pitchside announcer’s joke about Chelsea having earned their half-time hot-water bottles fell more than a little flat. “What should David Wagner do now?” Huddersfield’s former manager Peter Jackson was asked on the pitch during the break. “Panic,” came the reply. “He’s got to try and make the Chelsea goalkeeper make a save.”
That sentiment was still true five minutes into the second half when Pedro atoned for his earlier profligacy by extending Chelsea’s lead to three. Once again Alonso had found space to cross from the left, Chris Schindler failed to gain anything like enough distance with his clearance and Pedro rifled the loose ball high into the net.
Tom Ince did bring a save from Thibaut Courtois after an hour, the goalkeeper leaving his line to block a shot and seeing Andreas Christensen complete the job with a goalline clearance, before Zanka brought a roar from the crowd with a shot from a long way out that dipped at the end but still went too high.
Hazard’s last act was a backheel that should have resulted in another goal for Pedro, who could not keep his effort on target. Laurent Depoitre did grab a consolation in injury time but if Huddersfield thought they might catch the champions on an off night, they were sadly mistaken. - Guardian service