London (AFP) – Eden Hazard scored twice as leaders Chelsea beat Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City 2-1 on Wednesday to reassert their control of the Premier League title race.
Chelsea had given the chasing pack hope after crashing to a shock 2-1 loss at home to Crystal Palace on Saturday, but they bounced back to preserve their seven-point lead over Tottenham Hotspur.
Hazard’s early opener was cancelled out by Sergio Aguero, who punished an error by home goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, but the Belgian winger scored the rebound from his own penalty to get Chelsea back to winning ways.
Having won 3-1 at the Etihad Stadium in December, Chelsea became the first team to do a league double over a team managed by Guardiola, whose side had been unbeaten in eight league games.
The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach has now been beaten six times in a single league season for the first time in his glittering career.
His side remain fourth, 14 points below Chelsea, and are now under increasing threat from Arsenal and Manchester United, both of whom trail them by four points with a game in hand.
City skipper Vincent Kompany made his first start since January and Jesus Navas kept his place at right-back in a visiting back four that quickly found itself under examination by the roving Hazard.
Having already created an early opening for Diego Costa, the Belgian broke the deadlock in the 10th minute.
Cesar Azpilicueta, filling in for injured wing-back Victor Moses, cut the ball back from the byline and Hazard’s shot glanced off Kompany’s scalp to leave Willy Caballero clutching thin air.
Hazard was at it again midway through the first half, another cutback teeing up Cesc Fabregas for a shot that was deflected onto the top of the bar by Gael Clichy.
But with David Silva in the Hazard role, City were showing signs of life at the other end and after Aguero, following a one-two with Silva, had been denied by Courtois, they levelled.
– Guardiola irked –
Whereas Caballero had been partly at fault for Chelsea’s opener, Courtois’s culpability for City’s equaliser was clear.
The Belgium goalkeeper’s tame lofted pass went straight to Silva and although he partially atoned by saving from the Spaniard, Aguero was on hand to force in the rebound.
Courtois showed greater alertness moments later when he slid out to save at the feet of Leroy Sane and 10 minutes before half time Chelsea took the lead again.
Fernandinho was penalised for clumsily tripping Pedro and while Caballero got down well to save Hazard’s penalty, the Chelsea number 10 made no mistake with the rebound.
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte made his intentions plain at half time by sending on Nemanja Matic for Kurt Zouma, which saw Pedro move to wing-back as the hosts stiffened their midfield.
The second half was a tale of City attacks and Chelsea counter-attacks.
Kompany sent a looping header against the bar from a Kevin De Bruyne free-kick, while Fernandinho shinned a volley over and John Stones headed straight at Courtois from Silva’s corner.
Pedro and Hazard were the animators of Chelsea’s counters, the former curling straight at Caballero, the latter blazing over from the ex-Barcelona forward’s cut-back.
City’s frustrations began to tell as the second half wore on with Clichy, Fabian Delph and Kompany all booked, while Guardiola looked a picture of annoyance on the touchline.
City created one last opening, substitute Nolito arcing a glorious ball into the box from deep on the left, but Courtois saved bravely from Aguero.
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