Chelsea 3 Newcastle 0
It is easy to be cynical — after all, who could have predicted that Chelsea spending €38.5m on the best young player in Europe would have worked out so well?
Then you watch Eden Hazard in action and realise that he is worth every cent. This was a sumptuous, virtuoso performance to match his display against Manchester City five days previously, with the Belgian coming to personify the strides Chelsea have made under Jose Mourinho.
Hazard’s first season in English football was slightly underwhelming, with his obvious talent flickering intermittently, but he is now the shining light — in an attacking sense at least — in this new-look Chelsea team.
Comparisons have been made between Hazard and a young Cristiano Ronaldo or Gareth Bale, and his rare combination of pace, skill and killer instinct mean they are not quite as outlandish as may seem on first glance.
There are other reasons why Chelsea are looking ominous having gone top of the table — defensive resilience, the immediate impact of the hugely impressive Nemanja Matic in central midfield — but Hazard provides the cutting edge, the point of difference that few others are able to match.
“I think in this moment he’s the best young player in the world,” said Mourinho after Hazard’s hat-trick put Newcastle to the sword.
“I don’t want to compare him with the monsters (the likes of Ronaldo, Bale and Lionel Messi), because the monsters have 10 years of career, winning trophies, scoring goals,
“I think it’s not fair for the monsters and it’s not fair for the kid to make that comparison. But as a young player I don’t see a better young player.
“Is Neymar at Barcelona better? Neymar is also a fantastic player, but this season his season is very up and down — injured, play, doesn’t play, injured again. This season Neymar is not Neymar, but potentially, of course, he is also a fantastic player.
“Since the pre-season when he understood the levels of professionalism I demand from my players day by day, he’s just working well.
“He’s a married man, he has sons, he’s a family boy, he’s a guy with a fantastic life. Not many players his age have the kind of family life he has.
“ The kid is a nice guy. He’s a funny guy. He’s a happy guy.
“I think he’s changing just the idea of being on the football pitch to have fun or being on the football pitch to win matches. And you can be on the football pitch to win matches and at the same time have fun. Because when you win you have fun.”
Mourinho being Mourinho still wasn’t happy — in this case his gripe was that Hazard has never been named the Premier League’s Player of the Month — but he should be more than satisfied with his own role in Hazard’s development. Perhaps it is due to his growing maturity, but the numbers prove that Hazard is producing more, with the 23-year-old just one shy of last season’s goal tally of 15. He is becoming the talisman for this side, one that seemed certain to take advantage of slips by Arsenal and Manchester City to move to the top of the table once Hazard had swept home Branislav Ivanovic’s cut-back in the 27th minute.
Seven minutes later it was two as a glorious piece of interplay between Hazard and Samuel Eto’o ended with the former stroking the ball beyond a helpless Tim Krul. The Belgian then claimed the match-ball with a second-half penalty after Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa had brainlessly hauled down Eto’o at a corner.
After Monday’s victory at the Etihad, Chelsea have the look of a team fully confident in their own abilities, although winning the title this season would be in stark contrast to Mourinho’s previous two championship-winning campaign. Over the 2004/05 and 2005/06 seasons Chelsea led the table after 64 of their 76 matches, while in the current campaign they have been top just five times, only once retaining that spot in successive matches.
That led to Mourinho’s now infamous comment that Chelsea are ‘a small horse’ compared to the thoroughbreds of Arsenal and City — but as they well know, it only matters who is top on May 11.
“It’s nice if other people slip up but there is a long way to go until the end of the season, although we have got good momentum,” said centre-back Gary Cahill. “Are we a small horse? Ha, ha. Look, we’re going well — we are pleased.”
Yet what of Newcastle, who certainly are not going well after back-to-back defeats? The departure of Joe Kinnear as director of football led to more ridicule, and the visit of Tottenham on Wednesday is another real test.
“We have to keep going,” explained defender Steven Taylor. “The players and coaching staff will stick together.”
Perhaps the only consolation is that they won’t have to face Hazard again.
CHELSEA: Cech 7, Azpilicueta 8, Cahill 7, Luiz 7, Ivanovic 8, Matic 8, Lampard 7, Oscar 7, Willian 7 (Salah, 78; 6), Hazard 9 (Schurlle, 85; 6), Eto’o 8 (Ba, 71; 6).
NEWCASTLE: Krul 7, Dummett 6, Taylor 6, Williamson 6, Debuchy 6 (Yanga-Mbiwa, 40; 5), Santon 7, Anita 6 (Marveaux, 84; 6), Sissoko 5, Ben Arfa 6 (Gosling, 64; 6), Sammy Ameobi 7, de Jong 6.
Referee: Howard Webb.
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