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He was the butt of ridicule when he once said that there isn’t much difference between himself and the two of Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi. And last night he made those same critics eat their word. Yes, it’s the effervescent Eden Hazard we are talking about here and his well-taken hat-trick against Newcastle at the Bridge was the difference between the two sides. Chelsea took full advantage of leaders Arsenal’s dramatic collapse at Liverpool and now leads the league table by a solitary point. It was undeniably the Hazard show; he stopped all shows and rightly received all the plaudits.
TEAMSHEETS AND GAMEPLAN
Chelsea at home are a threat to anybody in world football and they started with a familiar-looking 4-2-3-1 with Frank Lampard and Oscar coming back into the side. Last Monday’s impressive performer Nemanja Matic retained his place in the starting eleven; Ramires and John Terry weren’t included in the starting lineup. David Luiz went back to his more conventional center-back role along with Gary Cahill. Branislav Ivanovic and the reliable Cesar Azpilicueta formed the other half of the defensive backbone. The shining star in the lineup was top-scorer Eden Hazard who started on the left while Willian was stationed on the right with Oscar just behind Samuel Eto’o up front.
Alan Pardew has had to make a few changes in the aftermath of selling his best player in Yohan Cabaye and after last weekend’s humiliation in the TyneWear derby against Sunderland. Pardew went for an unusually adventurous 4-2-3-1 formation but had to make do without the services of top-scorer Loic Remy. Loanee Luuk de Jong started up front ahead of a rigid and unimaginative looking trio of Sammy Ameobi and Hatem Ben Arfa. The real surprise was to employ full-back Davide Santon as the holding midfielder alongside Vurnon Anita. Steven Taylor and Paul Dummett completed the lineup. It was Newcastle who had the last laugh when the two sides met in Tyneside last year; but Chelsea under Jose Mourinho seldom gets beat at home.
Chelsea dominated from the off; leaving Newcastle to pick up the pieces in what was to become a farce of an encounter. Newcastle’s record against teams higher up in the table is pretty awful this season, and fans pretty much resigned their team to losing after conceding the first goal in the 27th minute. There might be talks about the lack of proper, goalscoring strikers at Chelsea; but one man who is hell bent on making it up all by himself is Hazard. Hazard was picked up brilliantly on the edge of the box by the aggressive Ivanovic and he duly finished a sweet strike even before Tim Krul could move an inch. It was a vindication of Chelsea’s early domination, and Newcastle were already down and out by then.
Chelsea played with purpose and intensity; while Newcastle lacked those. They found themselves wanting once again when a quick counterattack started by the impressive Luiz found Willian on the halfway mark. Willian moved forward and found Hazard on the left, who slalomed his way into the box before a beautiful one-two with Eto’o found him one-on-one with Krul. Hazard wasn’t to miss a sitter, and soon it was 2-0 Chelsea. No respite for the Magpies, who had to take off Mathieu Debuchy injured before half-time.
Business as usual continued for Chelsea and a reckless tug by Anita on Eto’o presented Hazard with a chance to complete his hat-trick. Hazard, one of Chelsea’s foremost penalty=takers, made no mistake and slotted the ball coolly to rubberstamp all three points that took Chelsea to the top of the league. With Arsenal losing at Liverpool and Manchester City only managing a draw at Norwich, Chelsea fans could enjoy a week at least on the top of the pile; and with their fixture list looking easy on paper, don’t rule out a title for the rejuvenated Blues.