While 2016 has become a year that many people are eagerly waiting for to be finally over, the last three months of it have gone really well for Chelsea. Since the match against Hull City on the 1st of October, the Blues have recorded 12 wins from 12 Premier League games — the most recent of which was a 3-0 victory over Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge on Boxing Day.
One game before the halfway point of the season, Chelsea's 46 points (second most ever for the club at this stage), have us six points clear of second place Liverpool. Chelsea are actually ahead of 2004-05’s pace, when the Blues set the current Premier League record for total points. Whereas the club are reluctant in accepting the 'title favourites' tag — Antonio Conte working hard to curb our enthusiasm — it's become increasingly hard to play that designation down.
Unless you’re Eden Hazard, in which case you’ve not been worried about playing it down at all. Quite the opposite in fact...
"We have been talking about the title all season long. We always want to win at Chelsea. We're happy now. I hope we'll continue like this through to the end of the season."
"We're happy, we're winning matches, that's the important thing. We're top of the league, we have to stay there. We're happy. Everything's going well. We know it won't be easy all season, we hope it will be. But it's up to us to do our utmost for this run to continue."
Against Bournemouth, for the first time ever under Conte, Eden Hazard was employed as a centre forward. Previous attempts at this ploy haven’t yielded much success — this experiment was first tried back in the 2012, when Roberto Di Matteo chose Hazard in place of misfiring striker Fernando Torres in a 3-0 away loss to Juventus in the Champions League — and while Hazard didn’t exactly emulate Costa’s style, he still managed to be more than effective.
Hazard admitted afterwards that he wasn’t expecting to start at first, assuming like many of us that Michy Batshuayi would be deputizing for the suspended Diego Costa. But Conte had a different plan in mind.
"I felt good. During the week, I thought Michy [Batshuayi] would play there as Diego was suspended, but the coach chose me up front. I had already played there last season and a few minutes this one, so I already knew the position a bit and I did rather well."
Diego will be back for the weekend and Hazard will presumably return to his normal role, but what will matter above all is to continue winning. Dropped points is a luxury we can save for later in the season.
"It's an important period. We know that points will be dropped. It's up to us to pick up as many as possible. That's three, we play again in four days. It's up to us to continue like that."
-Eden Hazard; source: SFR Sport via ESPN FC
Title-talk or no title-talk, it’s important to continue taking things game-by-game, keep up the concentration levels, and keep working hard. Good things will happen, if we do so.