Eden Hazard scored a memorable first hat-trick for Chelsea to cap an inspirational performance and lead his side to a 3-0 victory over Newcastle that takes them top of the Premier League. Following a 1-0 win over Manchester City on Monday, this was a very different type of performance, but one thing that certainly remained the same was Hazard’s brilliance.
His first two goals were out of the top drawer and came just seven minutes apart, either side of the half-hour mark. The match’s pivotal moment in between, when Moussa Sissoko missed Newcastle’s clearest chance of the contest and within seconds Chelsea broke up the other end and scored a second goal from which the visitors were never going to recover. The second half was a non-event with Newcastle, on the back of recent travails on and off the pitch, unable to offer anything to suggest they could force their way back into the encounter. Any doubt was dispersed when Hazard converted a penalty to complete his hat-trick after Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa had wrestled Samuel Eto’o to the ground in the box.
With Arsenal being demolished by Liverpool earlier in the day and Manchester City failing to beat Norwich City, Chelsea now sit a point clear at the summit of the Premier League. Even for a master of mind games, Jose Mourinho’s always laughable claim that Chelsea have little expectation or prospect of lifting the title this season will become increasingly difficult to utter with a straight face.
If they do lift the trophy in May, it is likely that the win over City will go down as the defining result. Yet, it is matches like the one against Newcastle, when they have to break down stubborn opposition that they will have to win on a regular basis if they are to be successful. With Hazard in this kind of form, few would back against them.
Still, it has to be said that Newcastle came into the fixture with very much a makeshift lineup. That was particularly true in midfield, where an injury to Cheick Tiote and the recent sale of Yohan Cabaye meant full-back Davide Santon lining up alongside Vurnon Anita, with Sissoko the man most looking to get forward. Sitting in front of the back four and with Hatem Ben Arfa and Sammy Ameobi doing diligent jobs on the flanks, Chelsea were kept quiet in the opening stages.
Only some fairly ambitious efforts from Hazard, Frank Lampard and Oscar threatened the Newcastle goal, while at the other end Ben Arfa gave a couple of signals of his ability with decent efforts. With Chelsea’s buildup play labored and Newcastle coping comfortably, it was going to take something special for the home side to get the breakthrough. That’s exactly what they produced and there were no surprises at the man who supplied it.
Hazard received the ball midway inside the Newcastle half and turned delightfully away from Santon, who never recovered his ground as the ball was fed out wide and the Belgian continued his run. Branislav Ivanovic fed the ball back into the path of Hazard in the box and he met it with an archetypal sweep into the bottom corner of the net.
Against a side as strong defensively as Chelsea, that already put Newcastle right up against it. Yet, the visitors had a great chance to get back on level terms just minutes later. Santon’s prodded through ball found Sissoko just onside and breaking inside of Ivanovic, but the France international’s first touch was heavy, allowing Petr Cech to come out and smother the shot behind.
When playing against Mourinho’s Chelsea, you’re at your most vulnerable when you’re attacking. And Newcastle had that reinforced to their cost in breathtaking fashion. Just moments after they could have equalized, Chelsea broke forward through Willian and then the marauding Hazard. The Brazilian’s continued run on the outside allowed Hazard to cut inside before knocking the ball into Samuel Eto’o, who produced a gorgeous flick back to his teammate to finish coolly into the corner. Such was the combination of pace and intricate brilliance of the move, that it’s difficult to know what Newcastle could have done to prevent it.
Now fully in the mood, Hazard might even have had a hat-trick before the interval, but shot over the bar on his left foot. Chelsea were able to coast through the second half, although Eto’o might have done better with a good chance in the center of the box, while Lampard forced Tim Krul into a smart save from a free-kick.
All that was left was for Hazard to get his first hat-trick in English football. Fortunately, Yanga-Mbiwa gifted him the opportunity to do just that. The French defender, who replaced the injured Mathieu Debuchy in the opening half, showed no interest in the ball as a corner was scuffed into the near post and he hauled Eto’o to the ground at the far post. Showing his confidence, Hazard stepped up and waited for Krul to indicate what way he was edging before rolling the ball into the opposite side of the net.
January signing Mohamed Salah elicited a cheer from the Stamford Bridge crowd as he came off the bench late on to make his debut. The Moroccan winger missed two clear chances, but still showed enough to demonstrate that he will provide another strong attacking option for Chelsea in their quest to repeat the success of Mourinho’s debut season first time around.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.