London (AFP) – Eden Hazard gave England followers a glimpse of what to expect at next summer’s World Cup with a glorious display as Chelsea beat Newcastle United 3-1 at Stamford Bridge.
Less than 24 hours after the World Cup draw put Belgium and England in the same group, Belgian Hazard was in imperious form, scoring twice and running at defenders at will.
Chelsea’s victory, which keeps them third in the Premier League, ought to have been more emphatic but it briefly looked as if they might not collect the three points at all when Newcastle took a surprise lead in the 12th minute.
Dwight Gayle chased down his own header and hurried Marcos Alonso into a back-pass which sold his keeper Thibaut Courtois short.
Seeking to prevent Jacob Murphy nipping in to round him, Courtois was forced to dive at the Newcastle winger’s feet but succeeded only in pushing the ball back to Gayle, who stroked it into the empty net.
The Chelsea response was immediate. Twice they went close before inevitable equaliser finally arrived after 20 minutes. Alvaro Morata contested a high ball and it bounced off him and dropped towards Hazard, who controlled his half-volley to perfection, driving the ball into the ground and bouncing it into the far corner of the net.
That goal settled any anxiety that had been floating around Stamford Bridge and it came as no surprise when the home side took the lead just after the half-hour.
Matt Ritchie’s clearing header was neither strong, nor decisive and fell straight to Victor Moses who quickly drilled over a cross that Morata merely had to divert home with his head.
Danny Drinkwater, making only his second Chelsea start in the Premier League, was the next to go close with a shot which drifted away from the far post.
The second half began as quietly as the first, with only a deflected Hazard shot raising excitement levels among the crowd above the soporific.
That was until the 56th minute when the Belgian danced through the centre of the Newcastle defence only to stumble just he approached Karl Darlow in the Newcastle goal.
At the other end, Ayoze Perez sent a bouncing shot just wide of the post, his last act before being replaced by Isaac Hayden.
If anyone was going to add to the scoreboard, however, it was going to be Hazard. Prepared to drift all over the pitch in search of the ball, he picked it up in his own half after 69 minutes and had Newcastle defenders backpedalling and afraid to tackle lest he skip his way past them.
A one-two with Drinkwater ended with the ball agonisingly out of his reach.
When his second goal came, it was from the penalty spot, impudently chipping the ball beyond Darlow after Ritchie had brought down Moses.
The Newcastle keeper exacted a revenge of sorts moments later when he stuck out a hand to deny Hazard his hat-trick.
As if in an act of mercy by Chelsea manager Antonio Conte, that was Hazards last contribution as he was replaced by Willian. Chelsea did not need him by then and may even have won more convincingly had Darlow not blocked Alonso’s goal-bound shot.
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