“A little horse that needs milk and to make a jump.” That “little horse” acquired its dairy liquid in the shape of the once-again incredible Eden Hazard to “make a jump” above rivals Arsenal and Manchester City following the Gunners’ demolition at Anfield earlier in the day while Manuel Pellegrini was left frustrated at Norwich. Subsequently, we moved a point clear of Arsene Wenger’s side and two ahead of City as we swept past a depleted Newcastle side at Stamford Bridge.
Both clubs prepared for the match in hugely diverging ways. While the Chelsea faithful congregated at the Bridge in sanguine mood following our flawless victory at the Etihad on Monday night, the travelling Magpies were still hurting from their 3-0 derby defeat last weekend, their third consecutive Tyne-Wear derby loss to Sunderland for the first time since 1923. Couple that with the resignation of the failed Joe Kinnear, and the absences of the departed Yohan Cabaye, Loic Remy (suspended) and the crucial injured trio of Cheick Tiote, Fabricio Coloccini and Yoan Gouffran, it made for a turbulent week at St James’ Park as they slumped to their fifth defeat in seven games courtesy of an unbelievable individual display from Hazard.
It was a truly memorable performance from the young Belgian as his hat-trick proved enough to see off Alan Pardrew’s spirited side and elevate us to the Premier League summit on a crucial day in the title race which saw our rivals Arsenal and City slip up.
Following a sluggish 27 minutes, Hazard exquisitely drove in the opener, a welcome respite from what had been a formidable half-an-hour as Newcastle, shorn of the services of key players Cabaye, Remy and Gouffran, threatened to take the game to the hosts.
As Jose’s men began to assert their authority and take a forceful grip of the game, the excellent Hazard doubled his and Chelsea’s tally with an exceptional goal. It was more the build-up which had made it one of the goals of the campaign as Samuel Eto’o, who put in a commendable performance, played the perfect one-two with Hazard, adeptly flicking the ball into the 23 year-old’s path, who finished clinically. However, the visitors should have equalised beforehand, with the reliable Petr Cech thwarting Moussa Sissoko in a promising one-on-one scenario.
It was then left for Hazard to secure what will be a fondly remembered hat-rick from the penalty spot after Yanga-Mbiwa, who in truth should have seen his second yellow card and then his consequent marching orders, wrestled Eto’o to the floor in a ridiculous piece of defensive play.
In a week in which Hazard had declared his desire to emulate the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi through scoring two or three goals a game, he is well on his way to doing so on this evidence. It was an exceptional all-round display from the wing-man as he wreaked havoc in the Magpies’ defence. His drifting, ball control and promising link-up play with the recently-rejuvenated Eto’o capped off an excellent hat-trick, his first in a Chelsea shirt and his first since his last game for Lille. It emphasised his vast improvement and development under Mourinho’s stewardship, with the sagacious Portuguese airing the point in his post-match formalities. Asked for his opinion on Hazard’s sublime showing, Mourinho said: “I am very delighted with the huge difference from the Hazard I saw in my first training and the one I see now.”
Starting eleven: Cech, Ivanovic, Cahill, Luiz, Azpilicueta, Matic, Lampard, Willian, Oscar, Hazard, Eto’o.
Subs: Cole, Ramires, Mikel, Schurrle, Salah, Ba, Schwarzer.
Jose opted for the usual 4-2-3-1 and made two changes from the epic win on Monday night. The pragmatist reinstated Oscar, who was a surprise exclusion at the Etihad, in the place of fellow Brazilian Ramires alongside Willian and Hazard in what is Jose’s preferred attacking trio behind the striker combination. John Terry, who suffered a knock in training, was replaced in the centre of defence by the eccentric David Luiz while Frank Lampard partnered Nemanja Matic, who has retained his place for the last three games due to his commendable performances, in the deep-lying midfield roles.
Mohamed Salah, an £11m signing from Swiss champions Basle who started on the bench on Monday and again yesterday, wasted a glorious opportunity to mark his debut with a goal as his shot was blocked by Tim Krul late on.
I had considered ourselves strong title contenders from the outset, but Jose had attempted to temper expectations in an effort to protect his young side from any form of pressure. But I suspect now that it’s becoming clear to many people that Jose is talking a whole load of “tosh” and he knows it.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High! And roll on Tuesday!
The Observer, Dominic Fifield: “Chelsea’s “little horses” have galloped clear of the pack. If that win at Manchester City on Monday had served notice that this team are contenders, despite José Mourinho’s protestations to the contrary, then the follow-up was impressive in its slick and efficient delivery. Newcastle may be a side who feel horribly stretched at present but they were dismissed almost at will, their players diminished in the mere presence of Eden Hazard.”
The Sunday Telegraph, Jim White: “When it comes to little horses, there aren’t many better in the Premier League than Eden Hazard. As Arsenal were flattened on Merseyside, and Manchester City laboured in East Anglia, Jose Mourinho’s Belgian magician was sealing the points for Chelsea which put them top of the table. His three goals destroyed a lame Newcastle United.”
The Independent on Sunday, Michael Calvin: “Hazard has been reprogrammed, recalibrated. He acknowledges he has been transformed into a more tactically aware, team-focused player by a manager who is “very close” to his players. A lot closer than the Newcastle defence got to him at Stamford Bridge, when he became only the fourth player to score three times in a Premier League match this season.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “Eden Hazard’s first Chelsea hat-trick took the Blues back to the top of the league table. The flying Belgian netted twice in open play in the first half, with the second of those strikes an especially fine move, and he completed the scoring from the penalty spot in the second half as the momentum built up by beating Manchester City was maintained by another invigorating team performance. Newcastle started fairly brightly but were limited to a couple of chances each half, while Jose Mourinho’s side improved during the first period and were a threat from the first goal onwards. With Arsenal heavily beaten at Anfield and Man City drawing at Norwich and again failing to find the net, we lead the pack by a point with 25 of the 38 games played.”