Chelsea 3-0 West Bromwich Albion: Three talking points from Stamford Bridge
Chelsea eased the pressure on Antonio Conte after a brace from Eden Hazard saw off basement boys West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge.
It had been a troubling week for the Blues, following back-to-back heavy defeats against Bournemouth and Watford that had cast serious doubts over Conte’s position as manager.
But Hazard netted twice, either side of a goal from Victor Moses to complete a routine victory over the Baggies, who lost loan star Daniel Sturridge to injury after just three minutes.
Chelsea leapfrog Tottenham Hotspur into fourth spot as the battle for the top four heats up, while West Brom remain seven points adrift of safety.
Here are three talking points…
Talismanic Hazard comes to the rescue again
Just days after he was voted as Belgium’s player of the year by his peers, Hazard underlined his ability as a footballer of rare class with another brace to take his tally to 11 for the season.
Chelsea’s number 10 has an excellent scoring record against West Brom, one which he improved upon with a display that was too good for the Baggies to handle.
Hazard is a talismanic performer and when he hits his straps, the rest of the team feed off him.
Hazard combined with new boy Olivier Giroud to slam home his first of the evening, which eased the tension at Stamford Bridge.
The 27-year-old added his second and rounded off the scoring late in the second half, slamming the ball past visiting keeper Ben Foster.
Back in the top four as a result of this victory, Hazard will be the key to Chelsea’s hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.
With him in their ranks, anything is possible.
Conte relieved as the pressure lifts
One man who will be extremely grateful for Hazard’s dazzling display is Conte.
The Italian seemed to be on the brink after last week’s 4-1 loss to Watford, which came hot on the heels of a similarly catastrophic result at home to Bournemouth.
Conte’s prickly demeanour and comments in press conferences had led some to speculate that he was goading the Chelsea board into sacking him, less than a year after he steered the club to the Premier League title.
Either way, it’s clear he retains the full support of the Stamford Bridge faithful, which was vocal in its support for Conte throughout the game, chanting his name with regularity.
Conte himself was typically demonstrative on the touchline, bellowing instructions and celebrating each of the goals as his players repaid him with an improved performance.
Whether he will be in the dugout next season remains to be seen, but for now at least his job is more secure than it was a week ago.
Sturridge’s World Cup audition falls flat
In front of watching England manager Gareth Southgate, Sturridge would have been hopeful of making a positive impression following his shock move to West Brom in the January window.
The Liverpool striker made the switch in order to enhance his prospects of making the World Cup squad, which will be named in little over three months’ time.
Few doubt Sturridge’s quality, but his fragile body continually struggles to hold up under the intensity of Premier League football.
His withdrawal due to a hamstring strain less than three minutes on the clock was a monumental blow, both to him personally and West Brom’s ambitions of springing a surprise against Chelsea.
Although he is expected to be sidelined for only a couple of weeks, this latest setback again raises questions over his durability.
Sturridge’s opportunities to prove he deserves to be on the plane to Russia are fast running out.
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