Eden Hazard is back in full effect these days, showing no lasting effects from that scary broken ankle he suffered back at the start of the summer while playing (well, training) for the Belgium national team, and that trend continued on Sunday against Manchester United, even as they resorted to their usual tactics of kicking him, kicking him again, and then kicking him some more.
Last season, Mourinho also tried this in all three contests between the two teams, once to great effect (United winning 2-0), once when it didn’t matter (Chelsea winning 4-0), and once when it mattered greatly and decided the game in Chelsea’s favor when Michael Oliver sent off Ander Herrera and Chelsea advanced to the FA Cup semifinals. On Sunday it was Herrera again, as well as Bailly and whoever else may have been close enough to take a turn. Both Hazard and Morata drew six fouls, and probably just as many more that went uncalled by Anthony Taylor.
None of that was surprising to any of the participants or observers, including the Chelsea head coach, who was rightly pleased with the contribution of his biggest star.
“I was a player and I know when you have an opponent who is a top player, you try to stop him. United tried not the best way, but the normal way to stop an important player like Hazard.
“Hazard played an amazing game. He was always involved with and without the ball, he created a good link with Morata, and with the rest of the team. We were always within 35 or 40 metres of each other, and the team was not stretched between the two strikers and the rest of the players.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC
Hack-a-Hazard isn’t a unique approach by any means of course, and we saw on Tuesday just how effective in can be when an uncalled double-foul on Hazard by the Roma defenders essentially changed the game. Trod on twice, ankle and Achilles both, Hazard was unable to exert the same amount of influence on proceedings afterwards and Chelsea’s attack suffered greatly as a result.
On Sunday, Hazard pushed past any lingering pain from the little and big kicks. Whether that was down to a bit of midweek shouting from the head coach is not known, but it wouldn’t be surprising. Conte lit the proverbial fire under everyone’s behind on Thursday, and most responded magnificently.
“Everyone was frustrated with the results, this week it was a little bit like that, sometimes you have to shout a little to get results, it paid off.
"In Rome, the result was very bad. We started the week badly, we finish well, we deserve the win and we're happy."
Having now won three Premier League games in a row and finally having just about a fully healthy squad (Moses should be back as well after the international break), Chelsea look ready to tackle the meaty part of the fixture list over the winter months. Over a dozen games in a little over 40 days await the squad; we’ll be needing Hazard, Kanté, Morata, and all the rest to play just as well as they did today if we are to maintain the top four challenge and progress in all the other competitions we’re involved in.
And hopefully without the need for too much more shouting.