Chelsea 3 Newcastle 1: Eden Hazard maintaining his fitness and form is clearly key to Chelsea hanging on to the coattails of what passes for a title race this season. Getting him to stay at Chelsea long-term is central to any future success the London side might challenge for.
Hazard’s general play and two goals – either side of an Alvaro Morata header - destroyed a spirited Newcastle side which had taken a deserved early lead through Dwight Gayle.
But that strike served as a wake-up call to Chelsea and Hazard, who then showed the sort of football which will light up the World Cup finals in Russia next summer.
And that is why Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte is desperate to get the club’s board to make him the best-paid player in the Premier League before an even wider audience see him play regularly.
Conte wants the Belgium attacking midfielder and his fellow countryman goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois secured long before they face England in Kaliningrad, on June 28.
Speaking after this emphatic victory kept them firmly in third place in the Premier League table, Conte revealed what he has requested the Chelsea money men thrash out.
Conte said: “As you know very well we are talking about two great players. Thibaut is one of the best keepers in the world, maybe the best. And also Eden. The club knows very well the importance of these two players and I think they are very happy to play for this club.
Hazard, long-coveted by Real Madrid, has a deal that expires in 2020, but Courtois, also strongly admired by the waning Spanish side, is in danger of entering the final year of his deal without extending, making Conte keen for fresh paperwork to be issued pre-Russia.
Pressed if the timing was crucial, he confirmed: “For sure, if you ask me about these two players I will be very happy when they can have this deal.
“But it is the responsibility of the club to try to do this. I can give my opinion about these two players and I repeat these two are great players, especially because they have a lot of space for improvement. They are young and it would be great to keep them with us.”
The immediate priority for Conte is the Champions League visit of Atletico Madrid tomorrow night and he will play a full side in an attempt to secure top spot in their group.
For his Newcastle managerial counterpart Rafa Benitez it was a painful return to the club he led to Europa League glory in his brief spell in charge here.
Derided at The Bridge for his Liverpool heritage despite his success in London, he is idolised by ‘The Toon Army.’ But he warned the club’s passionate supporters afterwards that the best he can hope for is to keep Newcastle from avoiding relegation as talks of a takeover bid for the club continue in the background.
He said with great frankness: “What do we need to do to make sure not sucked into relegation fight? We have to keep working harder. We knew from day one that we will be in the bottom half of the league. It’s not a surprise to anyone. This is the Premier League.
“We know we have to improve a lot of things, but still we will be a team in the bottom half of the table. It’s exactly what we were expecting on the first of September. We have learned a lot about our team, but at the same time we know about the other teams and still we can’t stop them.”
Courtois 7; Azpilicueta 6, Christensen 6 (Cahill 80, 6), Rudiger 6; Moses 7, Drinkwater 7, Fabregas 8 (Bakayoko 78, 6), Kante 6, Alonso 6; Hazard 9 (Willian 78, 6); Morata 7. Subs: Cabellero, Pedro, Zappacosta, Batshuayi.
Darlow 7; Manquillo 6, Lejeune 5, Clark 5, Mbemba 5; Diame 6 (Shelvey 75. 6), Merino 6 (Yedlin 85); Ritchie 5, Perez 5 (Hayden 61, 6), Murphy 6; Gayle 6.
Elliot, Aarons, Joselu, Mitrovic.
Kevin Friend 7
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