The brilliant Belgian finally got some support from his fellow forwards as Chelsea strengthened their grip on fourth with a 2-1 win over Newcastle
Eden Hazard has looked like a man carrying a great burden this season, as he has all too often found himself having to win games for Chelsea almost all on his own.
Against Newcastle United on Saturday evening, though, Pedro and Willian helped lighten the brilliant Belgian’s load, with both men on target in a hard-fought but vitally important 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge.
David Luiz’s fantastic through-ball – remarkably, his 26th of the Premier League season – cut out Newcastle’s midfield to tee up Pedro for the opener, though the Spaniard deserves great credit himself for a sublime first touch and a delicate lobbed finish over Martin Dubravka.
Chelsea suffered a surprise setback just before the break, when Ciaran Clark levelled matters with a fine header from a Matt Ritchie corner, but a mazy dribble from Chelsea’s main man Hazard opened up space for Willian, who curled home a brilliant match-winning goal early in the second half.
Maurizio Sarri’s side remain in fourth place but, crucially, this latest win takes them six points clear of fifth-placed Arsenal, who surprisingly lost at West Ham earlier in the day, and nine ahead of Manchester United, who face Tottenham away on Sunday afternoon.
Hazard’s role in the victory wasn’t insignificant but the game once again highlighted the way in which he is so often starved of possession when deployed in a ‘false nine’ role.
The 28-year-old gets a huge number of his goals by carrying the ball, either on the counter-attack or in tight spaces in the box. However, as a false nine, he is required to act as a pivot and provide a threat in behind defences, a discipline to which he is still adapting.
It often seems like a terrible waste of his talents. Indeed, he had fewer touches than any of his team-mates to have completed the game, which means that much of his work goes into opening space for his fellow forwards.
Willian, of course, was a big beneficiary, netting what was only his fifth goal of the season in all competitions.
The Brazilian has rightly copped some flak for his work in the final third from some sections of the Chelsea support of late, so Sarri will now be hoping that Willian’s wonderful winner sparks a return to form for the 30-year-old, who the Blues boss criticised in his most recent press conference.
Sarri still views him as a pivotal part of his plans, though, and he has said that it is “impossible” for him to leave in January, despite reports claiming Barcelona have made a £50 million bid for the Brazil international as part of a deal that would also allegedly include Blaugrana misfit Malcom.
Pedro is another player who Sarri believes he can extract more from, as arguably the best striker of the ball at the club. The 31-year-old began the season on fire, but two injuries have hampered his progress and seen his strike rate drop over the winter period.
Again, the hope will be that Pedro’s goal will lift the former Barca man, as Chelsea need a fully fit and firing front three if ‘Sarriball’ is to succeed at Stamford Bridge.
Misfiring Alvaro Morata remains the subject of much transfer speculation, with Chelsea looking for ways to offload the Spaniard and replace him with AC Milan striker, and Sarri favourite, Gonzalo Higuain. However, a deal for the Argentine remains both complicated and unlikely at this point.
Consequently, Sarri may have to stick with his ‘false 9’ formation for now, meaning Hazard will have to continue in the role in which former winger Dries Mertens excelled at Napoli.
However, that would mean an even greater onus being placed upon Pedro and Willian to help out Hazard. Saturday represented a good start in that regard. The challenge now, though, is for Pedro and Willian to continue in the same vein.
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