Oh, the irony.
In the not so distant past, following many a Chelsea match in which Eden Hazard had the honor to be on the receiving end of a thousand little and not so little kicks, José Mourinho would take exception with match referees for allowing his star man to suffer the fate of a glorified punching bag. Proving once again that all is fair in love and war (and nowadays, it’s mostly the latter with him), Mourinho showed he’s not above using what he’s learned from others, and set his new team out on Monday night to deal with Eden Hazard in exactly the same manner that he decried in all those previous games.
Eden Hazard vs Man United:— ️ (@ContehoIic) March 13, 2017
99% pass accuracy
6 times fouled
3 shots pic.twitter.com/MX6mElXDJu
It only adds to the irony then that Ander Herrera was sent off for precisely the same reason that Mourinho wanted all those other players sent off during his time at Chelsea.
The red card in the 35th minute certainly changed the complexion of the match and took away some of the “spectacle” that was brewing, but Antonio Conte certainly wasn’t sympathetic to any such concerns.
"My point of view is that we want to play football and for the first 25 minutes it was impossible for Hazard to play because he got a lot of kicks. I’m not crazy and it’s not only me who saw it."
"He started [the game] receiving kicks and finished it receiving kicks, nobody can say that didn’t happen. A tactic doesn’t exist when you go to kick an opponent, it’s not football."
"Sometimes when you play against players with great talent you try to intimidate them and the ref must protect these type of players."
No amount of intimidation of stamping was going to stop Hazard tonight however. The only thing that did stop him were a couple bad decision, a bit of bad luck, and one tremendous save from David De Gea.
"[Eden] showed great character, strong character. After the first 25 minutes every player came short to receive the ball because they had fear of receiving a kick from behind. Eden showed great character, I know this. Some people may be surprised but I’m learning to know him very well this season and he’s shown me this."
-Antonio Conte; Source: Chelsea FC
A few more performances like this one from Hazard, and the dream of a Double-winning season could just become a reality.