Chelsea took another step on their march to the Premier League title with a crucial victory over Manchester City.
Eden Hazard struck twice as the Blues bounced back from last weekend’s surprise defeat at home to Crystal Palace, which maintains their seven-point advantage at the top of the table.
The result ended fourth-placed City’s eight-match unbeaten run and means they are only four points clear of Arsenal and Manchester United, both of whom have a game in hand.
Here are three things we learned from a dramatic evening under the Stamford Bridge floodlights…
Conte outfoxes Guardiola once again
Both Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola are newcomers to the Premier League – but there is no denying which man won this particular duel. Chelsea have triumphed in both matches against City this season, scoring five goals and conceding just two in the process. The Blues’ 3-1 success at the Etihad last December proved that they were here to stay as a force to be reckoned with, and they have continued to go from strength to strength.
The statistics will show that City dominated the game, but it was Chelsea who came out on top in the key moments, like they have done all season. Conte’s tactical switch to three central defenders set the trend for other managers to follow, but no team carries out this approach to better effect than Chelsea. They are incredibly resilient and in this match, they withstood everything their opponents threw at them. An element of luck is sometimes needed and Chelsea had theirs, but they have earned it. The unstoppable bandwagon rolls on.
City’s faint title hopes are officially over
Victory for Manchester City would have slashed the deficit on the Premier League pacesetters to eight points and given them a sniff of lifting the title next month. But their defeat at Stamford Bridge leaves them an insurmountable 14 points behind Chelsea with just eight matches to play. While football may be an unpredictable game, not even Guardiola still believes his side are capable of causing an almighty upset.
When the Spaniard arrived at City last summer, he and the club’s supporters would have been envisioning a push for silverware. But now they will have to do with a Champions League place at the very best – and that is certainly not a formality with Arsenal and Manchester United breathing down their neck. City’s unbeaten sequence had stretched back to January 15, but in truth, they had made little headway on Chelsea. Their surprise Champions League exit to Monaco was another blow to Guardiola, who may feel he needs to completely revamp his ageing squad this summer.
Hazard proves why he is a world-class player
Much was written about Hazard’s dismal form last season, which coincided with the sacking of Jose Mourinho. Sections of Chelsea fanbase accused him, and several of his team-mates, of not playing for the Portuguese. Whatever the reason for his slump, the Belgian has returned to his best form this season and is relishing playing under Conte. His brace against City came from just four shots, three of which were on target, taking to 10 his total at Stamford Bridge this season.
While the goals themselves were nothing special – a deflected effort and a rebound from a saved penalty – they underlined his clinical nature. Hazard was also on the scoresheet in the reverse fixture at the Etihad. On several occasions this campaign, Hazard has been unplayable. His confidence has returned and he is beating defenders with pace and skill. Chelsea supporters will be hoping that speculation surrounding a move to Spanish giants Real Madrid does not materialise into anything substantial.