Hazard double returns Chelsea to winning path with City win
ABS-CBN Sports on Apr 06, 2017 11:09 AM
Chelsea's Eden Hazard, right, scores the opening goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Chelsea and Manchester City at the Stamford Bridge stadium in London, Great Britain, Wednesday, April 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
ROB HARRIS, AP Global Soccer Writer
LONDON (AP) — The symbol of Chelsea's collapse last season, Eden Hazard has spearheaded the revival under Antonio Conte.
With another two goals on Wednesday sealing a 2-1 victory over Manchester City, Hazard set the runaway leaders back on the winning track after a shock weekend setback.
Stamford Bridge now regularly rises to acclaim the winger who went missing in Chelsea's moments of despair last year and was branded a "rat" by fans who blamed him for Jose Mourinho's second reign ending in acrimony.
With each goal — 12 and counting after Wednesday — and every moment he's shimmering across the field, Hazard has rekindled the love affair with the Chelsea faithful.
"He's an important player and also he's growing in his mentality," Conte said. "I think he's playing a really good season."
It will surely end with a Premier League winner's medal to keep the one from 2014-15 company.
A shock loss to Crystal Palace on Saturday halted Chelsea's serene path to the trophy, but normal service was resumed at Stamford Bridge to leave former title rival City with a fight just to hold onto fourth place.
With Tottenham storming back to win 3-1 at Swansea in a game that finished slightly earlier, Chelsea's victory maintained its seven-point lead over the north London club.
"I don't know if the way we played was beautiful, but the most important thing is to win games," said Hazard, English soccer's player of the year in 2015. "I think the way we played we can do better, but after a defeat it's good to come back here and win three points.
"We have eight games to play. We want to finish top. That's the target. We have to be ready for everything. We are nearly there but there is a long way to go."
It was a night to forget for the goalkeepers in west London.
Willy Caballero allowed Hazard's deflected to shot to go past him far too easily in the 10th minute after the City goalkeeper sunk to his knees too early.
However susceptible Caballero was for the opener, it was nothing compared to Thibaut Courtois' calamity when the Belgium goalkeeper inexplicably cleared the ball straight to David Silva. The Spaniard surged through open space and a stinging shot was parried by Courtois straight into the path of Aguero, who had a simple tap in in the 26th minute.
But City manager Pep Guardiola was infuriated on the touchline once again, less than 10 minutes later, when Fernandinho brought down Pedro Rodriguez. Caballero did dive correctly to save Hazard's penalty, but the winger was primed to slot in the rebound in the 35th minute as Chelsea completed the double over City this season.
Hazard also scored against City in December when Chelsea won 3-1 at the Etihad Stadium as Conte became the first manager to ever complete the double over a Guardiola side in the league.
"It wasn't easy but when you play against City it's normal to suffer in some parts of the game," Conte said, "but I think we suffered as a team in the right way."
And City in the wrong way.
Guardiola's winless run in the league now stands at four matches after this sixth league defeat — the most the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager has experienced in a single season.
"If Pep has never lost two games in his career (home and away to a team in a season) it means he is great and it shows he is really the best," Conte said.
The Italian is comfortable praising a coach who is not proving to be a direct threat this campaign.
Guardiola's side is only four points ahead of Arsenal, which has a game in hand as it chases the last Champions League qualification place.
"The Premier League is gone and of course it will now be a battle to qualify for the Champions League," Guardiola said. "We created chances to win. I'm a lucky man, to be manager of this club. Hopefully they keep in charge with me and I would like next season to move the team a step forward."